Construction begins on new engineering/operations building

I am pleased to report that construction has commenced on the engineering and operations complex about 1.8 miles north of our current headquarter building in Cortez. Grand Junction-based Chamberlin Architects was the architectural firm for the complex and Durango-based FCI Constructors, Inc., was awarded a construction contract for $6.4 million to be completed within 270 days.

Our headquarters and administrative staff will remain at our current location at 801 N. Broadway.

The new location is west of Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company across Montezuma County Road 24. It will be hard to miss as a new road is being constructed along the south end of their property off of Colorado Highway 491.

Facilities to be constructed include the following:

cortez colorado16,600 square foot warehouse/garage

cortez colorado9,300 square foot engineering/operations office

cortez colorado8,200 square foot maintenance shop

cortez colorado5,000 square foot garage

cortez coloradoStorage yard

cortez coloradoAccess roads

cortez coloradoUtilities

cortez coloradoMicrowave tower

The new facilities have been designed to accommodate current needs plus some moderate growth. All facilities are also designed to be scalable in the event large growth occurs on our system in the future. Energy efficient design has been included where possible, balancing costs with paybacks. All of the buildings will be pre-fabricated metal except the engineering/operations offices.

By way of history, our building committee (three directors and three staff members) has been meeting since June of 2005, culminating in this project. Empire has outgrown our 1950s-vintage warehouse facility. Not long after construction it partially burned down, was restored, and was added to in order to accommodate changing operations functions. Garage bays have been converted into offices and testing facilities. Leaks in the flat roof will require roof replacement. Many functions designed in the 1950s and 1960s are inadequate to meet Empire’s current needs, much less Empire’s future needs. Windows from the 1950s are not energy efficient and there is virtually no insulation. Overflows in the sewer system are beginning to cause serious problems and expense. Because so many additions have been added to the building, it currently has 6 different structural levels used for multiple purposes.

The committee determined that if money was to be spent replacing the main operations facility, it was prudent to consider impacts of a long-term investment including future growth. Fifty years ago, Empire sold 31,000,000 kWh to 5,157 meters, on 1,082 miles of line. Today, Empire sells 638,000,000 kWh to 15,650 meters on 1,933 miles of line. Given the same level of change, 50 years from now, Empire could be selling almost 13 billion kWh to 47,000 meters over 3,400 miles of line. I seriously doubt Empire will ever sell 13 billion kWh. However, it is reasonable to predict that we could service 47,000 meters sometime in the future. The committee determined that more space is required to permit the co-op to expand when growth occurs.

Historical growth also manifested itself in increasing traffic flow to access our current facility. The location of our current facility creates anxiety for drivers attempting to enter Colorado Highway 491. I would venture to say this anxiety exists for many of Empire’s members visiting the co-op as well as Empire staff. Imagine trying to access Highway 491 in a large bucket truck pulling a pole trailer loaded with several 40-foot poles headed for a job. As growth increases, so does the safety hazard of ingress and egress from our current facilities. Moving engineering and operations to the new location will decrease traffic flows at our current facility and improve safety.

After exploring pros and cons of multiple options, maximum flexibility for Empire’s future needs was to phase in relocation of all facilities over time to a flatter piece of property with safe access to a state highway. Phase 1 consists of relocating the engineering and operations functions now.

Phase 2 will be to relocate the balance of the administrative portion at some unknown time in the future when member growth prompts the necessity to construct a new headquarters building. Until then, administrative functions will remain in our current headquarters at 801 North Broadway.

Empire owns 70 acres of property bordering Totten Lake. The board is actively marketing and pursuing a sale of this property to offset some of the costs of this project. The board is also considering strategies regarding the vacated facilities to maximize value for the membership.

From our roots in Dove Creek to the move to our current location, Empire has been able to provide its member-owners with reliable electricity at reasonable rates. However, our current facilities are on extremely rocky ground with differing elevations that simply will not accommodate our future needs without great expense. This project will provide maximum flexibility for Empire’s future growth needs.

If you have any questions or would like a group presentation regarding this project, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Neal Stephens is the general manager of Empire Electric Association.

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