News Column

Bid approved for energy center

June 25, 2014

By Bill Mardis, Commonwealth Journal, Somerset, Ky.



June 25--SOMERSET -- A low proposal by D.W. Wilburn of Lexington and Somerset to build Somerset Energy Center for $9,180,000 was accepted Monday night by Somerset City Council. Awarding a construction contract is subject to final approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Community Facilities Program which has OK'd an $8.5 million loan to build the center.

All 11 members of city council present at Monday night's council session voted to accept Wilburn's bid. Jim Rutherford was absent.

Wilburn's low proposal was $680,000 more than the approved loan, but Mayor Eddie Girdler commented at the May 27 bid opening: " ... these are good bids ... about what we expected." Three other construction firms submitted proposals, the highest of which was $10,382,000.

Girdler said he expects USDA to complete paperwork by the middle of July and hopefully a contract can be let and construction begin in August. Girdler said earlier the $8.5 millionUSDA loan will be repaid with profits from the city's natural gas business and not with taxpayers' money.

"Everybody seems excited about being able to get the project under construction ... it will have a big impact on the downtown area," Girdler remarked.

The glass-bedecked energy complex, designed by Brandstetter Carroll Inc., Lexington, will be the nerve center for Somerset's vast natural gas network. The 36,200-square-foot structure also will contain space for city hall.

The energy center will be located on what is now a city parking lot at the corner of East Mt. Vernon and College streets. The area will be expanded by demolition of the former Meece Hardware building on the west side of the parking lot; the former city utilities building on the west side of College Street north of the parking lot; and the current city utilities building on the east side of College Street just north of Somerset City Hall. The existing city hall, a former automotive repair shop building converted to a honeycombed city hall in 1951, will be torn down to make way for a parking lot.

Heart of the energy center will be on the second floor. It will contain the technology center and engineers' offices as well as space for city police department detectives and planning and zoning department.

Girdler said there will be city hall offices on all three of the above-ground floors. The city clerk's office, city staff, Somerset Police Department offices, conference room and public use spaces, including a drive-through, will be on the first floor.

An emergency command center will be in a portion of the basement along with police department lockers, mechanical and electrical areas and storage space.

The top floor is labeled as future space. Girdler said this area will be left mainly vacant for future research and development work with the private sector.

The center will be energy self-sufficient. An adjacent natural gas powered generator will provide electrical power for the center and more. Excess electricity will be put in Kentucky Utilities' grid in a trade-off deal with the city.

Somerset has a bountiful supply of natural gas. A pipeline extending westward to a Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation terminal in Casey County also has a connection with Tennessee Gas Transmission Corporation. The mayor said plans are to reconnect with Columbia Gulf Transmission, giving the city access to three national gas transmission distribution systems.

Somerset made a major step into the natural gas business during a shortage in the 1970s. The city borrowed $4.5 million from Farmers Home Administration and built a natural gas pipeline into eastern Kentucky. Transmission of natural gas from previously landlocked producers ended frequent shortages in Somerset and has proven a financial success.

The likely contractor for the new energy center is a familiar name among contractors in this area. Doug Wilburn is a Pulaski County native and a former basketball star at Pulaski County High School. Wilburn's firm has constructed several school buildings in the county. His the latest project is Pulaski County Senior Citizens and Alzheimer's Center now under construction off University Drive. He also built the Pulaski County Public Library building off South Main Street.

BIll Mardis is the editor emeritus at the Commonwealth Journal. He can be reached at bmardis@somerset-kentucky.com

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(c)2014 the Commonwealth Journal (Somerset, Ky.)

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Source: Commonwealth Journal (Somerset, KY)