Commonwealth Journal

January 10, 2013

Energizing Architecture

$8.5 million complex to revitalize, transform downtown Somerset

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

Members of Somerset City Council during a workshop Monday night got a first look at what Mayor Eddie Girdler calls the final preliminary design of the city’s planned energy hub.
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. Its main purpose is to monitor the city’s vast natural gas pipeline network, but center’s four floors, including a basement, will house city hall offices and an emergency command center with police department space.
The energy hub, with 36,200 square feet on four floors, will be located on what is now a city parking lot at the corner of East Mt. Vern-on 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 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 to develop and construct the ground-breaking energy hub. 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.
Monday’s workshop at The Center for Rural Development was informational and the council took no official action. Ten of the 12-member council were present, and although the meeting was open to the public, only one interested observer attended.
“If all goes well with city council, the project will be advertised for bids in about 90 days and a contract award should be let by mid to late summer,” 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.
Recent discussions have been held with East Kentucky Power Cooperative, wholesale electric supplier to South Kentucky RECC and 15 other electric cooperatives in Kentucky, about switching Unit 1 at John Sherman Cooper Power Station at Burnside from coal to natural gas. Somerset would supply the natural gas to Unit 1 which would consume more than all of Somerset Gas Service’s current customers.
Federal environmental regulations reportedly will force Unit 1 to reduce emissions in the near future. A scrubber and related air-cleaning equipment has recently been added to Unit 2 at Cooper Station.
“We’re like an interstate pipeline,” said Girdler, alluding to the city’s expanding natural gas business. “We run high-pressure pipelines ... we have no choice but to change our operations to protect the public.”