Balance a driving force for Jedi master
"Basically we balance air and water systems," said Barns, vice president of Jedi Balancing Inc. of Erie. "We make sure that everyone gets their fair share of air in a building."
But in construction and in life, getting to that balance point is what makes it interesting.
Barns, 32, was a senior at Columbine High School in Littleton in 1999 when two gunmen killed 12 fellow students and a teacher. Short only 1.5 credits from graduating that spring, Barns said he had no impetus to return for a summer-school class, and although he is reticent to blame the tragedy it was the beginning of several years of struggle.
"That summer you were still pretty much in shock, and nothing seemed to make much sense," he said. "But my dad told me, 'You are either going to work or you won't have money, so I took my GED test and got a job selling cell phones."
Barns went through several jobs, including working as a body shop estimator, and at a call center while attempting to work his way through Arapahoe Community College. Creating a balance between work and school, however, proved extremely difficult, as the call center job he had taken started in early afternoon and lasted until nearly midnight.
Barns returned to full-time work with a heating and air company his father was working for, and soon after decided to apprentice at the International Training Institute in Denver, which is largely funded by the two major sheet metal unions – the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association. Apprentices accepted into these programs complete four to five years of education and training in the classroom and on the jobsite, where they are paid for their work.
"The first year, you just worked and went to school at night, so that's where a lot of people dropped out," Barns said. However, after that initial year, he said, most of the work is on-the-job with additional coursework, all of which is paid.
Barns, who had a good math background, found his niche in testing, adjusting and balancing the air flow in commercial buildings and quickly progressed in the industry. He graduated from the apprentice program in 2009, and soon found himself handling most of the Colorado commercial jobs for Jedi.
"The president (Don Pittser) wanted someone to take over the local jobs so he could pursue international jobs," Barns said. "I guess he loves to travel. Lately he's been in Afghanistan, doing testing and balancing for buildings at Bagram Air Force Base."
The company has a great deal of business building and renovating hospitals, which require extensive air systems. For instance, an operating room needs to maintain positive air pressure, so outside contagions can't enter a patient during surgery.
Barns said there are probably fewer than 20 journeyman specialists in his field in the state, meaning that he completes a lot of onsite work each week.
In terms of his family life he's a lot more settled. In fact, he and his wife, Monique, bought a home in Littleton about a mile and a half from the home in which he was raised. The home is just outside the boundary for Columbine High, so the couple's two children – Madisyn, 9, and Alexa, 7 – will not attend school there, but Barns said that would have made little difference.
"I loved growing up there, and even though there was that tragedy, I still think it's a great place for kids," he said.
Still, "It's sad when you think about what's happened over the last 10 or 15 years," he said. "Things will never be the same as when I was growing up."
But at some point, it once again becomes a question of balance.
"You can't help worry about it when you send them off to school," he said. "But I don't want them worrying about going to class."
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