by Chris Harris
Plans for Somerset’s $8.5 million energy center have been submitted to the state and United States Department of Agriculture, and a contract for the new city hall and natural gas nerve center will be let about first of October, Mayor Eddie Girdler said this week.
“This will put Somerset on the map,” said Girdler. The energy center will be one of a kind in Kentucky and the nation,” the mayor added. “We are the only one in the state pursuing natural gas and components are being added all the time.”.
The center will be an eye-catcher in a rapidly evolving downtown area. The modernistic, glass-bedecked structure, first of its kind in Kentucky, will sprawl over most of a city block bounded by East Mt. Vernon and College streets.
Main purpose of the center 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 area.
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. The center was designed by Brandstetter Carroll Inc., a Lexington-based group of architects, engineers and planners.
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.
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.