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Jobs Corps center to serve state set for groundbreaking today

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 20. 2013 12:10AM

MANCHESTER — Mayor Ted Gatsas will be joined today by U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Gov. Maggie Hassan and members of the state's congressional delegation to break ground on the state Job Corps center, the long-awaited but controversial federal project.

New Hampshire is among the last states in country to build one of the facilities, which provide job training to dropouts and low-income young people. The $31 million complex will be built in northwest Manchester, at 943 Dunbarton Road, where the groundbreaking will take place today at 1 p.m.

Among those slated to speak at the event are Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who had been on opposite sides of a years-long dispute over whether the proposal would include a Project Labor Agreement, or PLA.

Such agreements, which set prevailing wages and mandate apprentice training, are priorities for labor unions, but are opposed by smaller nonunion contractors. A large majority of New Hampshire contractors are nonunion.

The Job Corps contract originally contained a PLA, but Ayotte and a coalition of independent contractors in New Hampshire and Vermont fought to have it removed, and the U.S. Department of Labor in October agreed to put the contract out to bid without the agreement.

In April, the contract was awarded to Bedford-based Eckman Construction, one of the region's most active builders.

The political leaders, however, appear to be ready to bury the hatchet at the groundbreaking Tuesday. The ceremony "represents a culmination of years of bipartisan work to build the Job Corps Center which will provide young people with job training resources and education," a congressional press release states.

1st District U.S Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is also expected to attend the event.

Mayor Gatsas said the project could bring both revenue to the city and help struggling young people. "It certainly is going to create an awful lot of opportunities to students who may not be headed to college, but to the workforce," Gatsas said.

He added that the city and school district, in conjunction with a partner, are planning to bid to operate the center, which would result in the city having more "local control." Gatsas called the proposal "a first."

The Job Corps program has come in for criticism in recent years, with a 2011 Department of Labor review finding that the program, which had a budget of the $1.7 billion that year, overstated its effectiveness.

One party not celebrating the groundbreaking is the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, which had fought to keep the PLA in the contract.

"If we got the agreement, we could have put people in New Hampshire to work on the project. We could have made sure there was training, safety standards, apprenticeships," said union President Mark MacKenzie. "This could've been a premiere project for doing those kinds of things. What we ended up with was more of the same (for New Hampshire)."

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