The former Newport Elementary School, which closed in 2019, was bought by the training arm of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1253 and has become a training facility for apprentice electricians. Photo courtesy of AFL-CIO

The Augusta Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee program and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1253 are moving into a new, shared home come fall.

Augusta Electrical JATC purchased the former Newport Elementary School building in late January in hopes of opening in the fall, just in time for the local’s 75th anniversary.

“It really gives us the space to improve the training that we do for our current apprentices, and it gives us expanded outreach to the surrounding communities,” training director George Howe said. “This will give us the opportunity to expand what we can offer and hopefully offer more opportunities.”

The town owned the building, and the Newport Board of Selectmen had to approve the purchase. The union likes the location because it is accessible from a number of state roads.

The union plans to break down walls in two classrooms to create a nearly 1,400-square-foot lab. Apprentices will conduct hands-on electrical work there. Four other classrooms will be utilized. The apprenticeship program and union also will renovate a room into a conference center.

Other parts of the school, which closed in 2019, may be rented out to another union.

“We’re essentially tied at the hip here; it’s almost synonymous,” IBEW Local 1253 business manager Chuck Fraser said. “We have people who run each different division of it, but we’re in lockstep with each other. … They become the future of the IBEW.”

Augusta Electrical JATC said all apprentices become members of IBEW Local 1253. There will be approximately 245 members of the union once the most recent class gets fully processed. Not all union members went through the apprenticeship program, but all members of the apprenticeship program go into the union.

Apprentices become journeymen after the four-year training program, which includes more than 900 hours of classroom training. The state requires 8,000 hours of on-the-job training.

“They get the opportunity to work with our signatory contractors, and they have two nights of classes per week,” Howe said. “We like them to be active in our projects.”

Past apprentices have helped with Habitat for Humanity, at schools and at other projects as volunteers.

Currently, 64 apprentices are in the program. Howe anticipates between 70-80 apprentices this fall in the program. Most training now is done over Zoom due to the pandemic, but they’ve also utilized the United Technologies Center in Bangor and IBEW’s current 3,000-square-foot building in Fairfield.

The training program itself started in 1964. For years, training occurred in locations across the region in Augusta, Clinton, Bangor, Fairfield and other municipalities. Fraser, an IBEW Local 1253 member for 35 years, said they were “just bouncing” around.

The new building is a welcome sight for union veterans.

“We’re going to be able to have a transformer, motor controls, so that’s the exciting part about it,” Fraser said. “There’s a 75-year birthday coming up, so we’re going to have a legitimate training center to help organize.”

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