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Portland’s new ‘Bike School’ opens doors to community

Posted by on October 26th, 2009 at 12:39 pm

UBI Open House-13
Inside the UBI classroom at their
open house Saturday.
(Photos © J. Maus)

United Bicycle Institute (UBI) has only been operating a campus in Portland for a few months, but they’re already giving back. On Saturday, UBI threw open their doors and welcomed the community with a day full of free food and drinks, a prize raffle, an expo area, and framebuilding demonstrations.

UBI Open House-7
UBI owner Ron Sutphin gave a
framebuilding demonstration.

UBI is a state-licensed vocational school that started in Ashland in 1981. Their new campus on the corner of Williams and Shaver in North Portland consists of two buildings. One of them includes a gleaming classroom surrounded by bike repair work benches and offices in a loft above them. Framebuilding classes, which are set to begin in April of next year, will take place in a separate building that is still under construction.

On Saturday, UBI owner Ron Sutphin stood in the doorway of that new building, giving a crowd of onlookers the lowdown on how a bike frame comes together. With a brazing torch in his hand and a microphone in his mouth, Sutphin, who’s owned the school for over two decades, described the finer points of welding with the same sense of passion that you’d expect from an eager new student.

UBI Open House-9
The site is still under construction.
UBI Open House-16
Portland Design Works’ new lights will be out soon.

Sutphin has reason to be excited about the new campus. John Baxter, the school’s administrator (and do-everything man), told a crowd Saturday that UBI has seen demand for their services increase steadily over the last 10 years — but nothing prepared them for the reception they got in Portland.

UBI Open House-8
Some smokin’ deals to be had.

“We were absolutely astounded.” Baxter said the five classes they’re offering in Portland filled up completely in just three weeks, a time frame that was “well beyond our expectations”.

UBI isn’t just a school, it will also be a convenient materials resource for Portland’s bike builders. They plan on stocking several types of bicycle frame tubing and other parts. On Saturday, they held a shop garage sale that several local builders took advantage of.

Across from the shop sale at a mini-expo, local vendors chatted up their products and services. Portland Design Works shared their latest products — the “bar_ista” handlebar-mounted cup holder and a line of bike lights (keep your eye on PDW, they are definitely on an upswing).

UBI is a huge asset to the North Portland community and to our City. We’re looking forward to what the future holds.


In related news, Portland’s Queen Bee Creations will be moving into retail space that fronts N. Williams Ave in the same building as UBI. Another building is coming soon to the corner and the developer hopes to land more bike-related businesses (call Jon Kellogg at (503) 274-0211 if you’re interested).

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  • Vance Longwell October 26, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    I have no problem whatsoever with this entity as a school, or that it is tax-payer subsidized. But I’m concerned about their ability to issue certification.

    The proliferation of vocational training in the Service Industry has greatly disadvantaged poor people. Certifying institutions are usually little more than a financial barrier to access certain jobs. Given the simple nature of bicycles, and my own Master Mechanic credentials earned over 25 years in the lifestyle, this looks a bit like a scam.

    Teach yes, but who judges the judges? As a cycling community are you willing to ban un-credentialed workers from employment in Bicycle retail? Positioning a school like UBI to be gate-keepers, without any public input, can’t be a good idea.

    Certified to do what, by whom, and for what purposes? I find it sort of discomfiting that with my background I will be unemployable in a future that requires a little piece of paper from somebody like this, in order to get a job as a bike mechanic.

    I’ve met a ton of UBI grads that may have passed a bunch of tests, but still didn’t posses the mechanical aptitude to successfully screw a light-bulb into a socket. This too, as a customer you will now be obliged to pay this arguably superfluous certification process back to the person who paid for it in the form of higher wages; are you ready for $300 completes?

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  • kgb October 26, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Victimology 101:

    If you play the victim you will be the victim.

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  • Anonymous October 26, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    It is not tax payer subsidized. Like any accredited school you can deduct your tuition payments from your taxes. A tax break to those trying to better themselves through education.

    As a graduate of this school let me tell you that no one is being denied a job because they don’t hold this accreditation. At least not in Portland where hipness matters as much if not more than ability.

    I applied for entry level positions and was greeted with nothing but disdain from the cycling community. Even though I had left my high tech position to specifically pursue a position in the bike industry and thought that getting a good grounding in the basics would help me it did nothing for me in Portland. In fact the responses were on the nasty side from a number of well thought of bike institutions in the city. Community Cycling Center in particular.

    I got a job in the industry out of state, that has since turned into a position at one of the major manufacturers in the business. Thanks to UBI for giving me a grounding in the basics.

    Nothing will replace the training you will receive on the job, from a more experienced wrench, but having this certification isn’t a negative.

    Mind you there are plenty of people in the industry claiming to be “Master Mechanics” simply because of years in the industry who are just as useless at screwing in light bulbs.

    But then again if that little piece of paper that someone paid to obtain means nothing, then come on over to my place cause I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night and I figure having lived as long as I have I’m qualified to: remove teeth, design bridges, rebuild engines, wire a house, drive a big rig and repair that torn ACL you have.

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  • Vance Longwell October 26, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    “It is not tax payer subsidized. Like any accredited school you can deduct your tuition payments from your taxes. “

    If you owe a tax and don’t have to pay it, what’s it called? A, “Taxbreak”, right? So non-tuition paying citizens are then subsidizing this tax-break, right? Hence, this school is tax-payer subsidized. Not only that, and the real point of my statement, they are accredited and one may obtain FAFSA financial-aid to go there. The majority of which comes from? The tax-base.

    I meant to make a distinction between full-on scams, like so-called, “Bar-Tending”, schools, and vocational schools like this one which seem quite bonafide. This distinction usually falls along the line of their accreditation. A tax-payer subsidized school is inherently vetted by a body I trust, and I wished to soften my criticism by pointing this out.

    I’m relieved to hear that your experiences with local businesses was negative. I’m sorry for you personally of course, but I’m glad that those who’ve paid their dues are not being ousted in favor of replacing them with grads from this school.

    And that is the central issue. Working in this industry has historically meant living in abject poverty. It’s a purist, and a dedication thing. To then find yourself in competition for jobs with those who’ve only attended a class is quite alarming, and implies dire things for un-certified mechanics. Not to mention the drain on educational dollars for more conventional schooling.

    While I’m sure bikes are kinda complex to the uninitiated, this is simply not true amongst people with a strong mechanical, or engineering background. Your correlation of bike-mechanics to dentistry is simply a misnomer. I’m quite sure that fools and their money will be parted. Not my point. My point is that this school impacts the entire area, and cycling industry within; and that I hope the area industry is skeptical and demanding of this institute.

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  • PDXbiker October 26, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    UBI as Gatekeepers? Gimme a break. Everyone starts somewhere Vance. Whether its a college degree or a UBI certificate, this may be what helps you find employment in your field. 25 years from now that UBI grad will also have 25 years of experience such as yourself. Starting with a formal education is not time wasted.

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  • Anonymous October 26, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Vance-
    If it is any consolation, many of the local employers couldn’t care less about “certification”. Experience and who you know carry much more weight. As a Barnett’s Certified Master Mechanic, I am speaking from experience when I say this: Resumes with no experience but a two week course mean less than next to nothing.
    There is that old addage about knowing (or learning) just enough to get into trouble.
    This may not be the same all over, but it certainly has been my experience here in PDX and a couple of other cities.

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  • Bob_M October 26, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    I had the opportunity to become a bartender in Vail Colorado some 25 years ago. I went to bar tending school and knew the degree in mixology was a joke, but I took the week long class, learned all the recipies and several time saving tips. I got the job and proceeded to make about $150 a night for the next 4 winters. I paid for the class, learned a marketable skill. How was that a scam?

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  • Vance Longwell October 26, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    PDXBiker #5 – Yes, everybody starts somewhere. The, “somewhere”, the vast majority of bike-mechanics start is by first spending copious amounts of money in one shop; and then hanging out there all the time until they hire you, or jail you, one of the two.

    Many bicycle industry types that don’t have the personal flair to sell are relegated to this approach (See: If you’re not a hot-chick, or a person with brown skin.). And I’m here to tell you it’s a tremendous sacrifice. To then have the same opportunities as a graduate of this school has is simply not fair.

    Gatekeepers is exactly what they will become. Oh, you professional types are so out of touch sometimes. Ever looked for work in a decent kitchen? Ya, better have your WCI diploma handy. You know, for that dish-washing/prep job you will work to pay your dues; and not your student loan. The exact same circumstance you’d likely have faced with $12k more money in your pocket.

    Maybe not today, but soon. In a society where the number of friends you have, and whether you are protected by the Civil Rights act or not, are considered before job proficiency, it’s only a matter of time before a certification from this joint will be your ONLY way into the industry.

    All of which is moot. This is the third time I’ve heard more than one person state that UBI isn’t all that relevant in the industry. As an additional tool for area cyclists, awesome, as another middle-man in people’s paycheck, not so much.

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  • Anonymous October 26, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I worked on my own bikes for 20 years before attending UBI.

    Amazingly I learned a lot. There’s actually an easy and correct way to do things, and tools designed for the task to ensure you don’t destroy you overly expensive parts and pieces.

    Glad I took the course because now I KNOW that the local wrenches have been shooting me a line of BS. I save hundreds of dollars every year doing my own work.

    Sorry but I gave up supporting the life styles of the poor and hip decades ago. I’m much happier doing the work myself. The local economy be damned.

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  • woogie October 26, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    No one ever said going to a trade school would make you a master anything.

    But if some newbie came to you looking for a job, would you choose the slacker on the fixie he bought from Urban Oufitters with no back ground in the trade, or the kid who took some initiative to get a grounding in the basics of the trade?

    And in the real world of bike shops, there’s not a lot of sharing of knowledge, particularly in Portland. Cut throat business around here very protective about maintaining the status quo. I know because I worked the trade for five years here.

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  • PDXbiker October 26, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    What say we start up a collection here to send Vance to UBI?

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  • Vance Longwell October 26, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Bob M #7 – OFF TOPIC: Hehe. You know, I taught at the Bartending College out on E. Evans Ave. during ’02-’03. (That’s south Denver all.) And I think you’re full of it. First of all, you didn’t walk into any job in Veil, that’s a lie that I can likely debunk by the end of today. Second of all, I made $1500 a nite up there the few times I was lucky enough to get invited up, so don’t know where your getting your numbers. I’ve got a buddy there right now and he knows the name of every ‘tender in that town for the last two decades. Will JH remember you? Doubt it.

    Did you look around your class fella? Tell me, I taught bar-tending to about 200 overweight people with self-esteem issues, isn’t that exploitation? To take several hundred dollars from a 19 year old girl, weighing in at over 250lbs, and tell her she’s going to be bar-tending afterward is tantamount to criminal.

    On the other hand, I watched dozens of women get recruited out of class day one to go ‘tend, and cocktail at the stripper bars. So there is occasionally anomalies.

    Your position was to take exception to my calling bar-tending school a scam. This was an analogy I employed in order to articulate my position, which is on-topic. If you’d care to continue making statements I know to be false, please refrain from doing so here, as I’m under a mandate by the Editors at BikePortland to cease and desist all independent thought; and above all to be nice to people like you.

    That should read: Spare me the rebuttal puh-leeze.

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  • Vance Longwell October 26, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    PDXBiker #7 – There’s no need to be personally insulting. I’m kind of with the dingus who tried to say that UBI is good there at #9. Don’t know how you work on bikes for 20 years only to learn there’s special tools for it after attending a school, but you go with that. I had to take some suspension instruction at one point, and I’m an accomplished motorcycle mechanic too. It happens, I’m not saying there’s no need.

    This is a nice school. I’m not saying it isn’t. Only griping that they certify, and the implications of that.

    There’s a way to police this through their back-door. If all vocational schools were required to place their grads in jobs at a certain percentage-rate, or face losing accreditation, I’d be much happier.

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  • Bob_M October 26, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I get called a liar and am told to not to rebutt? I never said that I walked off the street and got the job. I knew someone who wanted a bartender.

    In your zeal to debunk my tale, start with the Sundance Saloon in the Lion’s Head neighborhood of Vail.

    I only bring up my of topic experiencec to draw attention you your judgemental and imperious tone.

    I await your apology

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  • Elly Blue (Editor) October 26, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Alright, folks. Please moderate yourselves and keep to the discussion at hand. No need to get personal.

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  • JH October 26, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    Can’t wait to register for the frame building course!

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  • beth h October 26, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    I am amazed at the amount of highly personalized vitriol being spewed here.

    Allow me to make some positive points:

    1. UBI is a vocational/technical school that teaches people how to become bicycle mechanics. Since they are one of two nationally-recognized certifying schools in this country, there is already a high degree of buy-in from established shops.

    There is the expectation on the part of bike shop owners that graduates from these schools are reasonably prepared to assume an ENTRY-LEVEL mechanical position — most likely as an assembler — in a full-service bike shop.

    Once the bike shop owner agrees to hire a UBI grad, it’s then his/her job to train that new hire in the particulars of his/her individual business, and to provide opportunities for the new hire to grow a more specialized skillset that serves that particular shop. That is how it works in ANY of the established trades, and the bicycle industry is no exception.

    What UBI and Barnett’s have done is to standardize what a mechanic is expected to know when they begin working in a bike shop.

    Standardization is not about turning workers into robots, it’s about giving workers a broad base of knowledge from which to begin, and opening doors for them to expand their knowledge into specific, more advanced technologies. Those standards are based on industry-wide norms that are accepted by any bike shop owner who chooses to keep up with changes in technology and to admit that there is always something more to learn.

    That’s not a bad thing.

    True, it costs money to go to UBI, just as it costs money to go college or to take any other organized course of instruction. The fact that UBI is a state-accredited school means that students going there for vocational training can apply for financial aid, meaning that almost anyone can have a shot at getting the training UBI offers.

    That’s also not a bad thing.

    A UBI certificate won’t guarantee that you land the job of you dreams in the city of your dreams, but it does give you a base of knowledge from which to begin while you apply for the entry-level position that could be the start of your career as a bike mechanic.

    Why would any of this be problematic?

    UBI is bringing students and revenue to Portland — and more specifically to Portland’s burgeoning bicycle industry — in ways that will serve our city, state and region for years to come. Let’s stop looking for boogeymen where none exist and thank our lucky stars that UBI decided to open a second campus here. It’s a win-win situation.

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  • Anonymous October 26, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Dingus here.

    Yes you can spend 20 years working on bikes making do with what you have. Consider a 12 year old starting out working on their own bike. A big learning curve there, where you start by finding out about the metric system and move on to the intricacies of derailleurs. You progress from cantilever brakes to V-brakes and onto hydraulic disc brakes.

    And over 20 years you learn a bit, pick up a bit and find that yes there are certain tools of the trade, but you don’t know about all of them.

    You head off to UBI because of your enjoyment of working on your own bikes and learn some new techniques and learn to do things you haven’t done before.

    And in that education you find that there are tools you haven’t used, like frame and wheel alignment gauges. Headset race removers, gee no screwdriver and mallet needed.

    And you learn about how to read a shock schematic so you can take one apart and get it back together again in the right order. Something many shop employed mechanics won’t do.

    I can even build wheels. I don’t do it often, 4 pairs in the last 10 years, but most shops won’t even do that anymore either.

    But hey, a couple of guys with a lot of bike mechanic background got together and started a school to pass on their knowledge of bikes. They go to great lengths to bring in the latest technology. They went to the effort of becoming accredited and have an international reputation.

    Lets not mention the fact that they also utilized a number of other Oregon companies to take their facility in Ashland green, by installing solar panels and generating their own electricity.

    Boy taking pride in your skills and wanting to pass them on to those who want to learn is the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen. This kind of entrepreneurship needs to be nipped in the bud. The last thing Oregon needs is this kind of forward thinking activity going on.

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  • Vance Longwell October 26, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    “What UBI and Barnett’s have done is to standardize what a mechanic is expected to know when they begin working in a bike shop. “

    No they haven’t and it is exactly language like this that gives me trepidations. This is not for any one, or even one group of, individuals to decide outside of the most stringent guidelines. Like the Society of American Engineers, for instance.

    This may be a great business, but for me the jury is still out as to whether it ought to be a tax-payer subsidized, unilateral authority on anything pertaining to bicycles.

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  • Machu Picchu October 26, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Bob M.-

    Your story sounds on the money to me. I lived 15 years in the CO rockies, and anyone who got “invited up” to make 1500 dollars a night was Front Range material with questionable business. As you know, anyone tending bar in the mountains lives there and makes 10 to 20 dollars an hour depending on what they do. Rest easy, Bob. Real folks can spot the Yahoo.

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  • PDXbiker October 26, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    Well said, Beth h

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  • John C October 26, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    As someone who processes student financial aid for a vocational school, I can tell you that getting accredited and having Title IV financial aid is only the beginning. Having accepted student financial aid the school is now responsible for graduate and placement numbers. Unlike the 4 year school that I went to, if UBI doesn’t meet minimum graduate and placement numbers they could loose their funding. They have to graduate students and help them find jobs! So “subsidized” vocational programs through the Title IV system (FAFSA) are not ok for some of you, but 4 year institutions that offer degrees in interesting fields with no real job opportunities are just dandy to fund at $20,000 to 40,000 a year? I say welcome to PDX UBI! Just my $.02

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  • Borgbike October 26, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    (Ignoring the above discussion) The bike building demonstration was freaking awesome! It’s clear to me that UBI is run by some very nice well-meaning people. Portland is lucky to have them.

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  • Steven J October 27, 2009 at 5:28 am

    been out of the field for 10 years, but as a journeyman metal-smith with over 30 years exp. I can tell you an accreditation means nothing. States make you prove you can do things up to snuff. weld, pipefit, boiler, aircraft.

    I’ve built my own gear for the last 5 years after going back to cycling. I don’t care about any slip of paper a college could offer. It’s the knowledge that’s important. Personally I’d sweep Shasha White’s floors at Vanilla, just for the opportunity to learn frame building.
    Any employer worth working for knows to look past any “formal” training, and look to the person themselves.

    A high school diploma used to carry the weight of a college degree in the 60′s even the 70′s.
    If you think that college Degree means much to me your mistaken.
    Welcome to Portland UBI, you just found the fringe element that clings frantically to the 50,000 buck they blew going through college.

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  • Himee October 27, 2009 at 8:05 am

    I think Vance needs a hug…

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  • Tony Pereira October 27, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Cheers to Ron, Steve, John and the rest of the UBI crew for getting things rolling here in Portland. I’ve had the priviledge of getting to know them over the past few years and they are great people. I wish them well.
    As for Vance, I hope we can meet sometime so that I can give you a big hug. Try being just a little positive sometime and you’ll be amazed how much easier life is.

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  • Yaright October 27, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Wow…. lot of misinformation being spewed here. All I’ll say is check your facts about the school before you start claiming to be an expert about what it is they do and what it means.

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  • Yaright October 27, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Beth H…. very well said btw.

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  • Charley October 27, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    I’m so excited this is in my neighborhood! I’ve been learning my own way around my bikes by pestering the shop guys and reading books. . . but I’d love to have some first hand instruction. And, Mr. Longwell, it’s worth paying the professionals to teach you something that saves you money (or earns money for you if you want to wrench).

    Thanks UBI!
    Charley

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  • beth h October 27, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Full disclosure:

    I am currently a co-owner in a full-service bike shop. For 13 of my 15 years in the industry I have been a mechanic. I stopped wrenching two years ago to take over the full-time lead buyer’s role for the business.

    I have no immediate plans to return to wrenching. That said, if my schedule permitted me to take a class or three at UBI, you bet I’d find the money somewhere to do so. I would welcome the opportunity to bring my mechanical knowledge up to date, whether I return to the repair bench or not.

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  • WOBG October 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I’d almost agree with Vance if it were still 1985–when nearly all frames were steel, nearly all parts were aluminum alloy and nearly all wheels had at least 32 spokes.

    But (sadly?) carbon fiber and under-spoked wheels are now commonplace on consumer bikes, and they are not nearly so forgiving of the mechanic who eschews the torque wrench and the tension gauge, or who applies the wrong compound to the wrong surface. An arrogant or ignorant mechanic can create a stress riser that causes a part to fail suddenly and gives a customer a very bad day indeed.

    It’s time for certification, folks. OGs like me ought to take a refresher course if they return to the biz–and maybe even, god forbid, if they never left.

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  • jim October 28, 2009 at 12:57 am

    UBI will be a valuable asset for Portland

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  • [...] Bee shares a wall with United Bicycle Institute, the state licensed vocational school that moved in back in October. UBI was courted by real estate developer John Kellogg (who has developed several properties in the [...]

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  • [...] UBI has been offering professional mechanic training courses since they opened their campus in North Portland back in October. Since then, they’ve been working to renovate one of their buildings (on the corner of North [...]

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