In August 2018, Caliber Collision Center opened its newest Changing Lanes Academy at their Falcon location, which is the only one in El Paso County. The academy offers training in the collision and auto body industry for interested military men and women transitioning out of active duty to civilian life.|
Doug Willberg, director of technical training for Caliber, said the program began in 2016 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with 10 soldiers. “Our current enrollment is 97, with 24 of them training in Falcon,” Willberg said.
The Changing Lanes program is 18 weeks long, broken up into three six-week segments called phases, he said. The academy has one instructor for each phase who focuses on skills for that particular phase of training, which allows the program to have three ongoing classes of participants at any given time, Willberg said.
Peter Mahmood, Fort Carson recruiter for the academy, said qualified soldiers must be within 180 days of their separation date from the military and must get permission from their chain of command to participate. The soldiers approved for the program are released by Fort Carson to attend classes at the Falcon location Monday through Friday for 10 hours each day of the 18-week program, he said.
“Ninety-five percent of the student soldiers at the Falcon location come from Fort Carson,” Mahmood said. “They are going through the ‘Soldiers for Life’ program (sponsored by Fort Carson), where they get a career skills briefing and we talk about what opportunities are offered to them as they transition out of military life. If they express an interest in automotive repair, we move forward to see if they are qualified for the program.” Five percent of the trainees are from other area military bases.
Participants do not pay for their training through the Changing Lanes program; instead, it is paid for internally through Caliber, Willberg said. “The reason we pay for the program is because of the caliber of people we are bringing on board,” he said. “The core values they have in the military are the same core values we have as a company.”
Willberg said participants get real-world experience by working on vehicles throughout the program, exposing them to what they would experience in an automotive shop. If they successfully complete the training and coursework, participants can leave with up to nine I-CAR (Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair) certifications and a max ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) certification, he said.
In addition to the I-CAR and the ASE certificates, the graduates also receive a Mobile Air Conditioning certification and $12,000 worth of Snap-On tools, he said.
“We do not require our students to have a background in the industry or even a mechanical background,” Willberg said. “They have to have the strong desire, the want and the will. They need the attitude and the aptitude. Through this, they can earn a very lucrative income.”
In addition to the soldier students, the Changing Lanes program has started accepting Calibur employees who are the “best of the best” for internal training, Willberg said. These participants could be anyone from a detailer to a shop helper whose general manager believes they have the right attitude, he said.
“They live Caliber’s core values,” Willberg said. “We give them the opportunity to participate in the program by placing them in an apartment for the 18-week program. We house them and pay for the program.”
Qualified Calibur teammates must have been with the company for at least one year; they will receive the same training as the soldier students because they have proven themselves to be top performers in their shops, he said.
Willberg said training is not over once the participants graduate. “To ensure their education continues to grow, we place them with a selected mentor,” he said. “Placement really focuses on which locations have the right mentors for the people we are sending out. If we do not have mentors in place, it just does not work.”
The mentors work with the newly hired Calibur teammates for the first year, Mahmood said. “We really give them every opportunity to succeed, from the trainers at the academy to the mentors,” he said. “They learn the most current procedures and safety guidelines. It is a great opportunity for the soldiers.”
Donating a vehicle
As part of their training, participants repair a vehicle for an organization called Recycled Rides, a national organization that helps struggling people get back on their feet, Willberg said. "An insurance company donates the vehicle to us, and we repair it," he said. "We do not charge any money for it, and we get vendors to supply parts and we supply labor and time."
The current graduation class, whose graduation ceremony was March 29 at Fort Carson, chose someone from a field of many candidates, to receive the vehicle, Willberg said. This year, the graduates chose a single father, who is a military veteran, with a 2-year-old daughter. "With this vehicle, he will have the ability to support his family," he said. "We want to make sure we are helping some of the people in these types of situations so that the next generation of people have the best opportunity they can to spring forward."
Willberg said in addition to the car, the graduates donated their own money to purchase a car seat for the 2-year-old.
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Lanny Coleman is a long-time Falcon resident who has watched the area grow to its current state from the days when the only structures in the area were Falcon Fire Protection District’s Station 3 and El Paso County Colorado School District 49’s first building off Falcon Highway. He is concerned about the rate of growth and the negative effects it could have on the local environment. |
“My major concerns are keeping the dust down and how these developers are filling in natural drainage areas with dirt, and all that has to go someplace,” Coleman said.
When the Falcon Highlands neighborhood was under construction, Coleman said the dirt and dust was so bad when the wind picked up that he could not see across the street from his house. With the Meridian Ranch and Banning Lewis Ranch subdivisions continuously under construction for quite some time, he said he has been seeing a lot of excess dirt and is not sure where it will go.
“If they are hauling it away, are they hauling it into wetlands in the area?” he said. “Are they filling in the natural drainage areas with the dirt?”
“Before a developer is even released to do grading work, the county engineers do a very, very, very detailed review of the proposal to ensure that it meets our standards and requirements,” said Nina Ruiz, planner II with El Paso County Planning and Community Development. “Most of the time, we are going to have them do a drainage report to show where the water will go, a grading and erosion plan that shows what the grading will look like, the contours and elevations, and construction drawings that show the roads and other improvements to the area.
“There is a whole lot of review before the developers start doing any sort of grading on the site.”
Coleman said he is not against development, but feels the current method he has seen appears to be denuding the countryside altogether instead of working with the natural features to keep the area looking nice and functioning properly.
Ruiz said maintaining the natural landscape is part of the review process. The developers must provide a natural resources report, including how they plan to preserve them. “If there are wetlands or endangered species in the area, they have to show us how they will deal with that,” she said. “We send the applications out to several review agencies like the Colorado Parks & Wildlife, El Paso County Environmental Services; and, in some instances, we require a clearance letter from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.”
There is ample review prior to any work that begins, but Ruiz said the county regularly sends inspectors out to the construction sites to make sure the developers are building in accordance with the approved plans.
Developers are required to provide financial insurance to the county prior to any grading; if for some reason the company goes under after they have started the work and cannot afford to finish it, the county will fix and stabilize the ground, she said.
The county has a warranty period, which allows the use of insurance funds if the developers are not meeting county requirements for construction standards.
“We are seeing larger developments than we were seeing before, so the developers are opening up much larger areas to develop at once,” Ruiz said.
That mass-scale development method is what concerns Coleman, in particular when it comes to drainage and air quality.
Marla Luckey, environmental health program manager with El Paso County Public Health, said developers go through a permitting process either at the state level if construction is larger than 25 acres or appears to exceed six months of work; or the county level if the construction activity is greater than 1 acre but fewer than 25 acres. Those permits include air quality controls, she said.
“Developers have to have mitigation plans in place during the permitting process for how they plan to address air quality issues during construction,” Luckey said. “Rarely do we see violations. Our inspectors go out and actually try to find dust. Typically, some of those dusty activities only happen for a day or two. We do sometimes call a contractor to say, ‘Hey, are you aware the residents and neighbors are complaining about the dust, can you tone it down for a few days,’ if the wind is supposed to be really bad.”
In general, the contractors are seasoned and know how to keep the dust down as much as possible, she said.
“The expectation is not that there is no dust produced, though,” Luckey said.
Ruiz said she understands Coleman’s concerns and feels the county is already doing what they can to address them. “We as the county will not let somebody just move forward and violate our regulations,” she said. “But if someone is concerned about something or notices something, they can call our inspection staff. If somebody brings something to their attention, they will go out and look at that specific concern.”