Blue Ridge Electric major construction program progressing

PICKENS — At the beginning of 2015, Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative embarked upon a major construction program at its Pickens office campus.

Blue Ridge officials say two chief concerns are driving these building plans. One is the long-overdue establishment of a modern, multifaceted operations center. Another is the need to strengthen the cooperative’s ability to conduct a quality annual meeting of its members.

One annual-meeting problem had been the lack of close and convenient parking to the site—the cooperative’s large equipment facility. Blue Ridge needs to have at least 5 percent of its members registered at an annual meeting, and the lack of convenient parking makes that more difficult.

Providing sufficient and handicap-friendly restroom facilities for this annual gathering of 5,000 to 6,000 attendees had also been a challenging and expensive proposition. Adequate concession stands to service these thousands have presented additional costly and complicated difficulties.

The construction project is designed to address these and other shortcomings in a comprehensive and effective way. Ultimately, members with physical handicaps will find plenty of good parking spaces nearby the meeting site.

Ten acres of land immediately next to the meeting facility have been purchased and are now being converted into a parking lot. More close-in parking will be made available with the relocation of the cooperative’s pole-yard, fueling-island, transformer-storage, and warehousing operations.

All these facilities will be moved to more-distant locations on Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative property. These new, additional parking areas will not be available for use this year, but will be ready for the 2016 annual meeting.

Permanent and spacious restroom facilities are also being constructed on the meeting-site grounds. In addition, new and permanent concessions areas are well on their way to being completed. Both the restrooms and the concessions stands are slated to be in service for this year’s Blue Ridge annual meeting on April 30.

The concessions rooms will also serve as storage areas within the new operations center located beside the West Main Street end of the existing equipment facility. Year round, this structure will house the cooperative’s operations, dispatching, and field-account employees.

According to Blue Ridge President and CEO Charles Dalton, the operations facility will also function as an outage-restoration center, whenever the utility is confronted with winter-storm emergencies.

“When we’re facing an impending winter storm, our practice is to prepare for the worst, while we hope and pray for the best,” Dalton said. “This operations facility will provide space to house and feed visiting linemen that Blue Ridge may need to utilize during a major outage. When the cooperative experiences these outages, we depend on manpower assistance from our fellow cooperatives and from contractor organizations. To have these individuals on the premises represents a tremendous advantage for both Blue Ridge and our members.”

Dalton noted that with the coming of a storm emergency, it is difficult to reserve enough local motel rooms for out-of-town crews.

Typically, all area electric utilities would be bringing in outside workers and, consequently, would be competing for the finite number of available lodging options. What’s more, with many area restaurants subject to being without power themselves, feeding hundreds of imported linemen can prove to be very problematic. Both the feeding and the housing dilemmas will be solved with these additions.

“The cooperative’s management had originally sought board approval for this building project back in 2007,” Dalton said. “However, we put the plans on hold for more than seven years because of the deep downturn in the economy. Now that Blue Ridge is again experiencing some growth on our system, we’re glad to see these improvements finally getting under way.”

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