Sheet metal contractor finds it’s easy to be green

St. Louis’ Murphy Company completes LEED projects, opens door to business

ST. LOUISFor more than a century, Murphy Company in St. Louis has experienced success in mechanical and plumbing design/build projects. In 104 years of history, however, the last 10 years has made the difference. Years before “An Inconvenient Truth” sent the word “green” buzzing into the stratosphere, Murphy Company adopted an environmentally friendly approach, giving clients the opportunity to design their projects to a green standard.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s internationally recognized green building certification system, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), provides a guideline for levels of energy efficiency in design, construction, operations and maintenance. Levels for all buildings include certified, silver, gold and platinum. Murphy Company has completed two LEED Gold projects for Washington University – Brauer Hall, the company’s first major LEED project, was finished in 2010 and Green Hall this July.

“We’ve been seeing more and more LEED buildings pop up here in St. Louis the last six or seven years,” said Don Lynott, project manager for Murphy Company. “The city itself is progressing more and more toward greener building. I think you see in St. Louis what you see around the country and not only in construction but recycling and being as paperless as possible.”

In Green and Brauer halls, where labs and mixed-use teaching facilities and administration offices are located, workers had to be familiar with tools such as lab exhaust, heat recovery coils and high efficiency hot water heater systems. This sort of specialization takes skilled current and incoming workers. Journeymen and apprentices alike require training and continuing education through the training center at Sheet Metal Workers Local #36.

The St. Louis Sheet Metal Industry Training School is operated by a joint trust made up of three members of St. Louis Sheet Metal Air Conditioning and Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) and three members of Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) and uses curriculum developed by the International Training Institute (ITI).

“Our local is pretty progressive when it comes to things like this,” Lynott said. “Our guys are coming out of there with a base level of working on a green project, and our field guys are very well educated.”

The apprenticeship program is a college curriculum rooted in basic skills and knowledge. Having a solid foundation is the basis for a worker who can adapt and learn throughout his or her life, said Dan Andrews, Local #36 training center coordinator.

“They are exposed to everything,” said Steve Sneed, assistant coordinator for the Local #36 training center. “We’re teaching at night as much as during the day so the apprentices can add to their skills. The journeymen, too. As the markets open up, the training center is ready.”

In addition to hiring skilled workers, Murphy Company rode the surge in energy efficiency and introduced the Energy Solutions Division four years ago. The division meets with clients about saving energy in their projects, whether they’re aiming for certification or LEED Platinum.

“We can offer to our clients energy savings so they can get rebates. It’s on the proactive side and a service to provide to our owners aside from building a building,” Lynott said. Aligning with local utility companies, and old fashioned word of mouth, has helped the division prosper. “It offers clients more value out of our organization. It’s starting to take traction now and we’re starting to get more business on that side of the company.”

Because building green is still relatively new, educating the clients about their long-term savings is a challenge, but because of increased demand, customers are eager to learn.

“The points in LEED are very clear, very straight forward,” said Matt Gildehaus, design and building engineer for Murphy Company. “It’s managing the process and educating the owner. We’re in front of them earlier than most. Those decisions have to be made early.”

Murphy Company is building their “green” presence in the community, exponentially in the last three years with the completion of the two halls onWashingtonUniversity’s campus. The initial investment was worth it, Lynott said, and the return is even better.

“Every job is different. We certainly refer back to Brauer or Green halls. We lean on those experiences,” Lynott added. “They’re successful for us, not just because of the awards, but because the client got a quality product.”

From a local level, sheet metal workers at Local #36 are anticipating the future of the industry inSt. Louis. The center was the recipient of a grant due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. 

“There are more green construction projects coming up. I really think St. Louis is going to be a hub for sustainable construction in the country along with Portland (Oregon) and Denver,” Andrews said.

Sneed, who worked for Murphy Company for 31 years before coming to the training center, added, “Murphy Company is on the cutting edge when it comes to green building.”

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at training facilities in the United States and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by Sheet Metal Worker’s International Association (SMWIA) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal industry throughout the United States and Canada. Located in Alexandria,Va., ITI produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

For more information about ITI, visit www.sheetmetal-iti.org or call 703-739-7200.

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