Utilities Commission eyes building options

The city Utilities Commission took no action during a special work session Thursday, but discussed at least three options to address their storage needs for the distribution division.

The commission has talked about the possibility of constructing a new building on the utilities department Second Street/Pennsylvania Avenue site for many years, but the task became a little more urgent this year when members learned about plans for the redecking of the Cranmer bridge on West State Street next summer.

The project by the Ohio Department of Transportation means the utilities department will lose about 4,800 square feet of enclosed storage under the bridge and a new location will be needed to move all the piping, valves and other material used in the division’s day-to-day duties.

The distribution division handles maintenance and problems that come up with the city’s water and sewer lines, 17 lift stations and four water tanks.

“I think right now we’ve got three viable alternatives,” Commission Chairman Bob Hodgson said, adding that the financial part is going to drive the decision.

Jon Vollnogle, an engineer with Howells & Baird, has been asked to put together some numbers for the different options for the commission to consider at its September meeting or by Sept 1 if possible. If necessary, Hodgson said he’s willing to call a special meeting.

The three options include:

– building a new 10,000-square-foot building on the property off of Second Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, where the division is currently headquartered, and tearing down an old pump building at the site to make room.

– purchasing the now vacant Lowry building at Pennsylvania Avenue and Allen Road which includes 8,000 square feet of shop space and 3,200 square feet of office space with room to grow and relocating the distribution division there.

– purchasing a lot at the Industrial Park where a bigger building could be built and possibly house not just the distribution division, but the utilities administration and office as well.

Previously the commission had just been talking about building at the current location of the division, but Hodgson said he wanted to research what was available for existing buildings in the city, saying if there’s a vacant building they could make useful again, it would be good for the city. He had looked at several buildings, but it would have cost more in rent and renovations than for them to build one.

They learned about the Lowry building availability this week, with the next step to go look at the building and determine what kind of renovations would be needed. The building has an asking price of $395,000.

Distribution general foreman Terry Endsley was asked for his opinion and what he wanted. He suggested a building at least 8,000 square feet or more with 12 foot by 12 foot doors so the backhoe could be pulled in on a trailer. He also wanted to see doors on both ends and in the middle. He liked the look of the Lowry building, but he also had a preference for staying on the current property.

“We don’t want to be driving all over town to get our equipment,” he said.

The conditions under the bridge were not ideal for storage, with a dirt floor and lots of dust. When asked by commissioner Bennie Funderburg if there would be use for office space at the Lowry building, assistant Utilities Superintendent Matt Hoopes said there would. Both Funderburg and Hodgson have been adamant about building a structure with room to grow and not going smaller than what they have now.

One idea that was discussed briefly was that if the Lowry building was purchased and the division moved there, what would happen to the building on Second Street? Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart suggested one possibility would be moving the utilities department administration to the building on Second Street and seeing if the city wants to take over the water department space near city hall.

Commission member Tim Weingart asked about space at the Industrial Park, saying there’s an available spot with more than 2.5 acres where a building could be constructed to house everything, including the administration. Vollnogle, though, said there may be deed restrictions preventing a government entity from building on the site.

All three options will be studied further.

The Utilities Commission meets for its regular meeting at 4 p.m. July 10.