Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler said this week it probably will be the middle or late March before construction bids are advertised for the city’s proposed energy center.
This time it’s state government creating what appears to be a minor delay. Plans for the $8.5 million center are being given final review by the state, the mayor said.
A 21-day advertising period will push a contract letting to sometime in May or early June. Construction will take between 12 and 15 months, putting a completion date for the center in June or July 2015.
The center will monitor the city’s vast natural gas pipeline network and serve as city hall. 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 be located 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.
The city originally planned to raze structures to create space for the energy center. However, Girdler said engineers have recommended that demolition of the structures be included in the contractor’s contract.
Girdler believes the center will make Somerset the energy capital of Kentucky, maybe even the United States. Somerset has a bountiful supply of natural gas. The city is in the process of converting its fleet of 75 vehicles from diesel and gasoline to compressed natural gas.
The project had its beginning during the mid-1970s when the late Dearl Whitaker was mayor and former mayor Smith Vanhook was chair of Somerset City Council’s Utilities Committee. They led the way during a nationwide natural gas shortage in borrowing $4.5 million from Farmers Home Administration and building a natural gas pipeline to near Hyden in Leslie County. During this period, the city also laid a parallel pipeline westward to a Texas Eastern Transmission terminal in Casey County.
The original natural gas pipeline to Eastern Kentucky has been profitable, providing transmission of natural gas out of previously landlocked wells. It has been a dependable source of natural gas and revenue for Somerset.
Natural gas and the city-owned water company have made Somerset one of the most affluent cities in Kentucky. Girdler recently told the Somerset Kiwanis Club that Somerset has $20 million in the bank.
In addition to revenue, a dependable supply of natural gas has made shortages during brutally cold weather a thing of the distant past. Businesses and factories that used natural gas prior to the Eastern Kentucky pipeline were required to switch to alternate fuel sources during zero weather to conserve natural gas for home heating.