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Butte College’s Welding and Manufacturing Building Wins Lab Design Excellence in Safety Award

Customized equipment keeps students and staff safe

MaryBeth DiDonna

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A voter-approved bond measure allowed Butte College to construct a new Welding and Manufacturing Building, which enabled the school’s welding program to double its enrollment.
Jack Knox Photography

Butte College in Oroville, CA, about an hour’s drive north of Sacramento, is home to a thriving welding technology program. This curriculum, regarded as one of the state’s premier technical education programs, offers vocational courses designed to produce qualified personnel for certified welding jobs. The exclusive program is only able to accommodate a small number of students for each session, meaning that talented individuals have often been turned away because of a lack of space.

Local voters went to the polls in November 2016 and approved Measure J, a $190 million general obligation bond measure allowing Butte College to improve its facilities, safety, and infrastructure so that it could meet California’s education and vocational demands. The college used a portion of this bond to develop the Welding and Manufacturing Building, a state-of-the-art facility to replace its antiquated, out-of-code predecessor—this in turn allowed the college’s welding program to double its enrollment. “This building is one-of-a-kind and houses the latest technology upgrades. We’re very grateful for local voters who approved the bond measure to allow us to expand our career and technical programs,” says Samia Yaqub, president of Butte College. Occupancy began in October 2019.

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Butte College’s Welding and Manufacturing Building features custom-designed welding booths, created with the use of BIM technology.
Jack Knox Photography

The project team behind the Welding and Manufacturing Building developed a “designing for simplified operations” approach to the project, where they created control panels, valves, power sources, control dampers, adjustment controls for equipment, and other aspects that would avoid serious injury or death. Ventilation systems, HVAC controls, welding hood exhausts, and other systems and equipment have been meticulously designed to maintain the highest levels of safety for students and faculty. This attention to detail earned the Butte College Welding and Manufacturing Building the Excellence in Safety prize in Lab Manager’s inaugural Lab Design Excellence Awards program. The Welding and Manufacturing Building was submitted to the Lab Design Excellence Awards by the architect of record, JK Architecture Engineering of Auburn, CA. The project team also included D.H. Slater & Son, Inc. (design-builder); Shirah Builders (construction manager); Buehler (structural engineer); NorthStar (civil engineer); Weston & Associates (mechanical engineer); EDGE e-Consulting (electrical engineer); and MJB Welding Supply, Inc. (welding equipment design/fabricator). The size of the facility is 60,283 square feet, and the project cost was $20.5 million.

Baptism by fire

The Welding and Manufacturing Building houses two welding laboratories as well as one manufacturing laboratory.
Jack Knox Photography

The Welding and Manufacturing Building project faced several obstacles right from the start. The budget was severely impacted by a change in plans when the size of the program requirements doubled. Escalations in materials costs, along with a shortage of construction, project management, and design labor shortage, occurred two months into the start of the project. “Not uncommon during the winter of 2017-2018 was the significant impact of tariffs on structural steel,” says Brandon Slater, vice president and project manager, Slater & Son. “Following the award of the project, the initial steel pricing increased by $286,000. This created significant concerns for the project team. The general contractor, subcontractor, structural engineer, and architect came together to understand how best to tackle this issue. We focused on where to create efficiencies in the design and how to manage the risk of unknowns, which helped to bring comfort into the scope and pricing variables. The team ultimately procured the steel long ahead of the DSA approval. The steel sat in the shop of the subcontractor and several members were ultimately altered; however, the cost impact to order new steel for these select members was significantly less than having held the entire steel package until the design was complete. Having the team, and specifically the local subcontractor, [partner] in this approach was instrumental in minimizing this scope's impact.”

Most significantly, the Butte College campus had to be evacuated on November 8, 2018, when the deadly Camp Fire ravaged nearby Paradise, lab design CA. The devastating inferno came within 100 feet of the Welding and Manufacturing Building project site. Contractors and others working on the building project were among the thousands of displaced individuals in California, and Butte College transformed itself into an emergency response center to help with the crisis. Even after all that, however, the Welding and Manufacturing Building project remained on time and within budget. The project team incorporated a memorial beam into the design of the building to honor the efforts of the Butte College community during these difficult times.

Safety first

The Welding and Manufacturing Building measures 59,525 assigned square feet, with two welding laboratories measuring about 9,242 sq. ft., as well as one 11,525 sq. ft. manufacturing laboratory. The welding and manufacturing labs open up to (and are supported by) an outdoor covered area—a fully equipped 11,525 sq. ft. space with a 1,566 sq. ft. enclosed rod storage and remote welding machine, compressor, and welding bottle storage structure.

Central to the building’s design are the 46 custom-designed welding booths in each of the two welding labs, for a total of 92 booths. “The college realized early that after reviewing extensive premanufactured welding booths to support their unique welding program, a custom welding booth would be necessary,” says David Shirah, principal, Shirah Builders. “The criteria documents identified this scope as an owner-furnished and contractor-installed scope item. This may sound clean, however, the ultimate design of the booth and its filtration system had a direct impact on the project design, both from a program/footprint standpoint on how/where equipment would be placed as well as the overall lab HVAC design.”

The welding and manufacturing labs open up to, and are supported by, an outdoor covered area with enclosed rod storage and a remote welding machine, compressor, and welding bottle storage structure.
Jack Knox Photography

The initial design for the welding booths was modeled in 3D, and a full-scale mockup booth was built to test the booth's functionality and performance. Derek Labrecque, partner, JK Architecture Engineering, says, “The utilization of Building Information Modeling (BIM) was critical in virtually coordinating the multitude of systems and equipment prior to construction. This provided affirmation in the coordination and integration of all the mechanical, electrical, plumbing/gas, and fire protection systems.” The design was edited for months to meet program requirements and address both welding program requirements and OSHA standards. A third-party hygienist conducted tests prior to releasing the fabrication of the 92 booths that were needed. The booths each offer enough space to fit a student and an instructor with an advanced Centralized Filtered Recirculated Air Systems (CFRAS) Miller “Filtair” exhaust system. Custom racking between booths includes specialized control panels, which offers all booths the flexibility to utilize different welding processes as well as several varieties of welding gases and electrodes.

The control panels are uniform throughout the entire shop and breezeway area, so that operators can easily and safely understand the gases being used. For both energy efficiency and safety purposes, ventilation and lighting for all of the booths are motion-controlled. The facility uses mixing stations, which allow for efficient operation and flexibility to make changes as industry demands and needs progress. A VRF system offers individual HVAC control in each office so teachers can adjust their respective environments to their liking—each classroom and conference room features individual HVAC controls as well. The welding hood exhausts are designed to be adjustable to permit fume capture from multiple welding positions. Luminaires in the labs and at each welding booth have dimming controls that allow users to adjust the lighting according to their personal preference. High-plume exhaust fans, designed to have an effective throw of 50 feet above the roof, release uncaptured welding fumes from the building and exterior covered outdoor work areas. To provide a safe, healthy, and compliant work environment, the building complied with ANSI Z49.1:2012; continually maintained OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits for students, faculty, and staff. It also met all requirements of Butte County Air Quality Management District.

“JK Architecture Engineering is extremely pleased with how the Welding and Manufacturing project has turned out,” Labrecque adds. “Our expertise is designing career technical education facilities—and when we are able to work with clients like Butte College who share this passion, we are able to create facilities that excel for learning while preparing students for prosperous professional careers.”