A look at the stainless steel cabinet two workers from Conrad Sheet Metal in Bloomington, Ill., made for a new staff cafeteria at Bloomington High School. Picture courtesy of Conrad Sheet Metal Co.

The project required the workers to fabricate the shelves the cabinet would use. Picture courtesy of Conrad Sheet Metal Co.

Many people probably wouldn’t give much thought to a cabinet designed for use in a cafeteria’s kitchen, even one made of gleaming stainless steel. But most people aren’t Mike French or Rodney Roberts. The two sheet metal workers at Conrad Sheet Metal Co. in Bloomington, Ill., recently completed work on a large cabinet for use by teachers at Bloomington High School.

The cabinet, which is about 6 feet long, 32 inches deep and 3 feet tall, was done as part of a yearlong, multimillion-dollar renovation project at the school, which included new kitchens and cafeterias.

For their part of the project, French - a foreman at Conrad with 16 years experience - and Roberts - who has been a sheet metal worker for about seven years - would have to figure out how to put together a cabinet that would fit the kitchen area’s unusual dimensions. 

Conrad Sheet Metal foreman Mike French (left) designed the cabinet. Rodney Roberts performed the welding the project required. Picture courtesy of Conrad Sheet Metal Co.

Unusual specifications

“The wall was (at) sort of a 135-degree angle,” French recalled, which meant that he would have to design much of it as he and Roberts went through the construction process.

“It’s fairly usual,” he said.

This wasn’t the first time French had made custom cabinets for the school. A decade earlier, he created four steel storage cabinets for the same kitchen, prior to this remodeling. Those cabinets would no longer be used in the new facility.

“They pretty well gutted their kitchen,” he explained.

The cabinet French, 47, designed was to be made of polished stainless steel - 14 gauge on the top, 16 gauge at the bottom and 18 gauge on the sides, with two adjustable shelves. French and Roberts would be working in Conrad’s sheet metal shop as well as performing some work at the school. 

As French designed the cabinet, it fell to the 31-year-old Roberts to weld much of it together. Fortunately, Roberts specializes in welding, something, he said, makes him more employable in a recessionary economy.

“If you can weld, I think you’re definitely more beneficial,” he said.

But even for an experienced welder like Roberts, the cabinet proved difficult. The top was so large, “We didn’t know if we were going to get it through the door,” he recalled. “It was really elaborate.”

Adding to the project’s challenge was the fact that “with stainless, there’s no mistakes.”

Fortunately, the two men didn’t make any. And after about nine days of work, the cabinet was finished and installed during the start of the school year in September.

French and Roberts were happy, and school officials were, too.

“It worked out really, really well,” Roberts said.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.