The apprentices studying at Sheet Metal Workers Local 292’s training center learn all kinds of skills, but dealing with the aftermath of an August 2013 fire that destroyed the union’s offices was not among them.

More than $120,000 in sheet metal equipment and office supplies vanished in the fire, which sat in 6 inches of water after firefighters quelled the blaze. All furnishings had to be removed before salvaging could be attempted.

Total damage was estimated at $1.5 million.

“Every tile, every light in the whole place had to be replaced,” said Kevin Stanbury, training director for the union.

Stanbury had an idea: Why not use the fire as an excuse to update the center and have students take a hands-on role in the process? It would allow them to continue learning while they waited for the school to be rebuilt. It would also give first-year apprentices experience with some computer skills they typically would not learn for a year or more.

Stanbury assumed the role of contractor and gave different students the chance to act as project supervisor.

“They were in charge of the project, of course with my supervision,” he said. “There were a lot of things they were able to do they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise. Imagine every nut and bolt was gone. They had to re-do everything. It was my vision to get it done, but they did the work. They realized the value we’ve added to the school, making it a better place to learn.”

The center’s rebuilding still under way — and the students say they are still learning.

It was a group effort,” said first-year apprentice Mark Graves. “Everyone’s opinion counted as to how everything was going to fit back together. Instead of delaying it and letting us sit home for four or five months, they stepped us up until we could go back and continue with the program. I think they handled it very well.”