by Bill Mardis
The recent shutdown of the federal government and a new funding cycle have delayed authorization by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for Somerset to advertise for bids to construct a new city hall and energy center.
“It looks like now it will be sometime in December before we get the go-ahead,” Mayor Eddie Girdler said this week. The mayor said USDA is “running behind” on project approvals. “We haven’t received authorization ... we’re still waiting,” he added. The city previously had hoped to let a contract in October.
Estimated cost of the energy complex is $8,496,000. Somerset has been approved for an $8.5 million loan through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Program.
Main purpose of the center, designed by Brandstetter Carroll Inc., a Lexington-based group of architects, engineers and planners, is to monitor the city’s vast natural gas pipeline network. The building’s four floors, including a basement, will house city hall offices and an emergency command center with police department space.
The 36,200 square-foot structure will center on what is now a city parking lot. 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 facing East Mt. Vernon Street will be torn down to make way for a parking lot.
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.
Heart of the energy center will be on the second floor. It will have the technology center and engineers’ offices as well as space for city police department detectives and planning and zoning department.
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. The mayor 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 with an adjacent natural-gas powered generating station that will provide more than enough electricity to operate the facility. Excess electricity produced by the generator will be put in Kentucky Utilities’ electrical grid in a trade-off deal with the city, Girdler said.
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.