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PCC puts stimulus money to use

Photos and Story by

Lisa Kiefel

Dennis South working in Building 2 on the system - Lisa Kiefel, Northwest Electrical Contractors

For Lisa Kiefel, business is getting busy despite the economy. That’s how the governor and state leaders want it.

Thanks to Oregon’s stimulus package and matching funding by Portland Community College, the president of Beaverton-based Northwest Electrical Contractors just hired three unionized electricians from the Local 48 and expects to hire additional employees as work moves along on an upgrade of PCC’s emergency mass notification and fire alarm systems.

"There are three different contracts that we are looking at for the stimulus alone that will bring in 20 people who are currently unemployed," said Kiefel, who added that she normally employs five electricians at any one time. "So it’s a good opportunity."

Northwest Electrical Contractors is a woman-owned company that specializes in electrical and fire alarm maintenance contracts. On the PCC job, it is the mass notification system upgrade sub contractor. The company is a union contractor, taking talent from a pool of more than 500 people from Local 48. They handle maintenance and upgrades as well as remodels of electrical systems.

The work is part of the $6.4 million in state stimulus funds the college received to overhaul the mass notification system, which will be used for fire, active shooter and emergency alerts across the college district. PCC matched the stimulus funds for a total of $12.8 million that will go to toward deferred maintenance projects across the district.

The upgrade project started its second phase at the end of March thanks to the state’s timely stimulus funds. In an emergency bidding process, Northwest Electrical Contractors were able to secure the winning bid and start work almost immediately. It didn’t hurt that the company has already subcontracted on the first phase of the project.

"It was, ‘How quickly can you get people out of the halls and onto this project?’" said Craig Kiefel, operations manager for the company. "The stimulus made it happen. We already had the back bone in place as the projects we’re starting on existed a long time ago but didn’t have the money to move forward."

Thanks to the ramping up of hiring at the firm, the mood among the pool of electricians they use for their jobs has been lifted.

Dennis South working in Building 2 on the system

"To pull people in from the union hall on a regular basis; everybody has been appreciative," Craig said. "It may be a year before they would be employed again. We’re seeing an appreciation in people that we haven’t seen before."

As for the job, the electricians for the company are taking the existing alarms and upgrading them into a dynamic mass notification system. Things such as changing the lights on the alarms from red to white, add dimensions to the alert so students and staff just don’t think it’s a fire alarm.

"If you have a shooting at the college, everyone will now know it and they’ll know it’s not a fire," Lisa said. "The system will tell them instructions, to either stay in their rooms or to get out."

A few years ago, as a result of a few high profile school shootings, the federal government mandated that colleges and universities upgrade their alert systems. But many colleges like PCC, didn’t have enough resources to get the job done in a timely fashion. That’s where the state’s stimulus funding came into the play.

"As a small business, you are looking for ways to be useful and helpful in the size that you are," said Lisa. "To partner with PCC in this way, and with the union, it has been wonderful. The stimulus gives us a once-in-the-lifetime opportunity to go out and hire some people. It has been a win-win. You can’t beat this project either. It’s for a good cause."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »