Detroit sheet metal workers, fans build Little Caesars Arena

Lifelong fans get unique chance to help create home of Red Wings, Pistons

DETROIT – Two words come up when Glenn Parvin, owner of CASS Sheet Metal, talks about Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena: “passion project.”

It’s shown on the shirts his employees wear to the job site imprinted with “Arena Team 2017” and “25-year Detroit-based original.” It’s shown on the Detroit Red Wings stickers on the toolboxes and hard hats. These sheet metal workers from Local No. 80 are proud to build the home of the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons.

Colm Foley, a third-year apprentice at Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 80 in Detroit, has been a Red Wings fan his entire life. And this year, he is installing the custom panels on the many angles of the arena’s exterior. This is a job the city and the nation will see. This is work his grandchildren will see.

“It’s a pride thing, for sure, because of the team and how it looks,” Foley said. “It’s just a really cool project to be a part of. Everyone is pretty proud of it.”

Typically as an apprentice, Foley and his fellow students are the only ones learning on a job site. But because the Little Caesars Arena is unique in design for the area, experienced veterans are learning right beside the students.

More than 800 versa wall panels, made of structural steel and laminated foam panel by Centria and fabricated by Crown Corr, interlock and are installed by use of a rail system on a left grid pattern. The jewel-shaped building has many inverted and angled surfaces, making for creative, yet safe, uses of aerial lifts, man lifts and scaffolding, Parvin said.

“It’s a cool thing to work where everyone has a clean slate, so everyone’s ideas are welcome,” Foley added. Panels are labeled with letters and numbers, so they have a specific position on the exterior. “I like that you get to see what you’re doing. I wouldn’t like putting HVAC duct up just to cover it with drywall. It’s good to make people ooh and aah when you’re done with it.”

Parvin knew this was a special project from the beginning, creating custom T-shirts and giving rally-cry pep talks to the crew. More than 1,000 trades people are working on the site daily, Parvin said.

Fun aside, at the end of the day, there is a deadline to meet.

“The Red Wings will play hockey in September, and everybody has to bring their A game. There is no saying, ‘We didn’t quite make it.’ There is no delay,” Parvin said. “This is an extremely specialized job, and you will have to do what is necessary, work the hours necessary.”

He doesn’t have to push hard, he said.

“We are putting people out there who want to excel,” he added. “Everyone in the company thinks it’s cool to be working on the arena.”

The Little Caesars Arena is one of a handful of professional athletic stadiums or arenas currently under construction or recently completed by union sheet metal workers, including new stadiums for the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Bucks and renovations of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and The Hard Rock Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins. Work also is on the horizon in Las Vegas for Raiders practice facilities and a new stadium.

“These stadiums and arenas are passion projects for sure, but they’re also part of a surge in architectural sheet metal across the country,” said Dan McCallum, architectural sheet metal specialist for the International Training Institute, the education arm of the unionized sheet metal, welding and architectural metal industry. “With the economy improving, more projects like these, including commercial buildings, high-rises and the like, are coming online, which is good for workers and contractors as well as their communities.”

More than 14,000 apprentices are registered at over 150 training facilities across the United States and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) 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 heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), welding and industrial, architectural and ornamental, and service and testing, adjusting and balancing industry throughout the United States and Canada. Headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, the ITI develops and 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 and its available training curriculum for members covering sheet metal trade work, visit their website or call 703-739-7200.