Jeff Awalt | Executive Editor
The RehabZone was launched in 2002 to help educate and instill confidence among sewer and water industry professionals in the advancing capabilities of trenchless technologies at the start of a rehabilitation boom. By the time Andy Rothenberg became chairman in 2016, the RehabZone had become a destination “show within a show” at the annual Underground Construction Technology International Conference & Exposition (UCT).
The challenge, Rothenberg recognized, was the number of repeat visitors was starting to decline.
“Technology in our industry is constantly advancing, and the RehabZone provides one of the best ways to keep up with these changes year after year – but only if people return,” said Rothenberg, owner of Florida-based Primeline Products.
“The vast majority of visitors gave very positive reviews, but the exhibit was getting a little stale and we needed to provide more reasons to come back,” Rothenberg said. “We also looked for ways to make it more interactive to be more appealing to younger professionals.”
Success in 2018
Two years later, there seems to be little doubt that this renewed focus on annual updates and hands-on features are paying off with high repeat-attendance rates and increased sponsorships. Fundraising by the RehabZone, which is sponsored by the National Association of Sewer Service Companies (NASSCO), increased 27 percent in 2018, compared with 2017, allowing ’Zone management to make several much-needed upgrades and replacement for the exhibits.
New additions for 2018 included the safety section and the Cutter Challenge – a test of skills using the TryTek T150 Lateral Reinstatement cutter. Two machines were set up for operation in a designated section of the RehabZone – one providing an opportunity to learn and practice the controls, and another for a competition among attendees.
Educational stations included the NASSCO Pipeline Assessment Certification Program and Inspector Training Certification Program; sectional CIPP, water main, lateral and manhole lining; joint and seal repairs; pipe bursting; bypass pumping; and others staffed by industry professionals, who presented objective information without sales or promotion.
Jack Doheny Companies brought essential permit-required, confined-space training to the RehabZone with its mobile “classroom.” The fully operational training truck was stationed within the exhibit to provide access by attendees to all of its features. Illustrating the interactive focus, participants were strapped into a harness and lowered into a simulated manhole. Experts were on hand to answer any questions about the truck, OSHA requirements and other safety aspects of underground infrastructure operations.
Most of the 2018 UCT attendees, who responded to a survey conducted during the New Orleans event, said they attended the RehabZone and benefited from the experience. The positive feedback came from industry newcomers and veterans, and from first-time visitors and repeat attendees alike.
Steve Freeman, a project manager who has worked at Kenner, La.-based Fleming Construction Company for about 20 years, said he found the RehabZone “very beneficial” during his first visit to UCT this year.
“Today’s market is so competitive that you just have to make time to keep up with new technology and equipment. It was very informative,” Freeman said, noting that many New Orleans rehab projects employ cured-in-place liners, along with some microtunneling. “There’s no real estate left for anything new in the metro areas now, so you either have to rip things up or modify what’s there.”
Early start for 2019
“One of the things that really helped us last year was to just start talking to people earlier to get their ideas for new features, along with their commitments to contribute through participation or sponsorship,” Rothenberg said. “We’ve taken that lesson to heart this year and already met in April to start working toward an improved 2019 RehabZone at UCT in Fort Worth next January.”
The cutter challenge and mobile classroom for confined-space training are both expected to return next year, Rothenberg said. A portion of income from 2018 sponsorships may be used to modernize and upgrade the popular sewer history exhibit. The museum-quality display chronicles the development over a period of more than 200 years and features samples ranging from early wooden and ceramic pipe to the modern infrastructure of today.
During its first planning session last month in San Antonio, the committee also began exploring potential interactive events, including knowledge-building contests that may extend RehabZone activities beyond the “no-sell” exhibit zone into the UCT exhibit hall. While participants in the 2018 cutter challenge competed against the clock, Rothenberg said, the addition of a second cutter to the ’Zone in 2019 could offer the possibility of a showdown between competing models.
The RehabZone is sponsored by NASSCO and Underground Construction magazine in cooperation with the Underground Engineering and Surveying Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Water Environment Federation Collection System Committee. It is funded by sponsoring organizations and participating industry companies.