Building The Perfect HVACR Lab

ROYAL OAK, MI — In the past weeks, we at The News have been able to report that our project of launching a new post-secondary HVACR training program in Oakland County, MI, has been going as planned. Some of the hurdles have been cleared. For example, the Oakland Technical Center — Southeast campus in Royal Oak has been designated to house the program. Also, Rob Featherstone, a former instructor at Oakland Community College (OCC), has been hired to lead the program and instruct a new generation of technicians.

Now the project is moving into a new phase. It’s time to start building the best HVACR lab possible. We (Featherstone and The News) hope to use our connections in the industry to obtain equipment that will provide students with hands-on training.

Rob Featherstone shows the wiring inside a heater to two of his current students in his electrical class. The heaters have been donated for the upcoming HVACR program.


Featherstone has been given approximately 2,300 square feet of lab space for the program. The room had been used for storage; so far about half of the space has been cleared out. At press time, efforts were being coordinated with school administration to clean out the other half of the room, but a deadline has not yet been set.

In the meantime, Featherstone has been busy teaching electrical courses at the tech center while he waits for the HVACR program to get under way. He is also doing what he can to secure donations for the lab when the space is available.

So far, Featherstone has been able to find half a dozen small heaters that were taken out of an apartment complex. He is making use of them with his current class by showing students the wiring.

Featherstone believes that when the time comes, he will be able to find the equipment he needs. The instructor was with OCC for 18 years prior to taking the position at the Oakland Technical Center. He said he will use his OCC contacts to help him build this new program.

Of course, Featherstone won’t have to do it on his own. The News will be working with the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) to acquire equipment for the program. ARI has been instrumental in helping hundreds of HVACR programs get the donations they need to build their labs.

In fact, it was ARI that inspired The News to work with local industry to build a secondary HVACR training course. Two years ago, the organization was instrumental in creating a pilot program at Custer High School in Milwaukee, WI. ARI then published a guide titled Establishing an HVACR Program In Your School. The News and Oakland County Schools are following the ARI guide and hoping to repeat the same success.

In addition, The News will use its connections to obtain equipment, especially from area suppliers, wholesalers, and contractors. The News has already found a core group of contractors in the community who are willing to help in several ways to give the new program a boost.

Featherstone helps a student with an in-class wiring assignment.


Featherstone said that his goal for the new HVACR program is to create the best lab that he can. Although the lab space is still in very early stages of development, Featherstone is already envisioning what he wants.

To start, the instructor would like:

  • A number of 2-ton air conditioning units;

  • A number of 50,000-Btu furnaces;

  • A 2.5- to 3-ton rooftop package unit;

  • A couple of small hot water boilers;

  • Some radiant equipment; and

  • A reach-in cooler.

    He would like to receive equipment from several different manufacturers so that his students will have the opportunity to work on a variety of units they will encounter in the field. He would also like to find scaled-down or smaller models of the equipment so that he can save space in the lab.

    Featherstone also envisions his new lab with workspaces and benches that will allow his students to learn brazing and tubing, and a Pittsburgh machine so he can instruct his students on sheet metal.

    Finally, Featherstone stressed the importance of finding a variety of tools, including traditional hand tools and HVAC-specific tools.

    If you can help Featherstone with the equipment he needs to launch his program, contact Training & Education Editor James J. Siegel at 248-244-1731; (e-mail).

    Publication date: 11/25/2002

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