Carthage, TN. A groundbreaking ceremony kicked off the refurbishing of the 42-year-old South Carthage District office building this afternoon. Smith County Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Apple joined UCEMC General Manager Jennifer Brogdon and County Mayor Jeff Mason to host the event.
With the size of equipment evolving and technology changing rapidly, the outdated facility no longer meets the needs of a modern UCEMC. Total project costs are estimated at around $9.3 million. Construction and remodeling will not result in rate increases to members.
New Technology Hub
The plans to refurbish the facility will include a new technical operations center. The area will serve as a multi-directional fiber hub for UCEMC’s territory with interconnections to surrounding electric co-ops.
“We already have an interconnection with Tri-County EMC and are making plans with Middle Tennessee EMC about an interconnection,” says Joe Skelton, UCEMC Operations Manager. “Most Tennessee co-ops are interconnecting and providing a co-op fiber grid that will serve the Tennessee Valley well for any changes that may come.”
UCEMC is close to completing an approximately $2 million Fiber Optic Ring project. Once completed, a physical “ring” or circle of fiber will connect district offices and substations for the power grid’s visibility and control. Skelton says the new technology will improve response during outages.
“Our goal is to provide reliable power as technology moves toward remote control, which increases our speed of response and reliability,” Skelton says. “We need an infrastructure to support that. This fiber optic ring path to our district offices and substations provides that secure infrastructure. Suppose any point of that circle goes out. In that case, we still have connectivity to each office or substation from the other part of the circle.”
Longer Poles, Longer Trucks
The increased demand for space on poles to accommodate new technologies means that utility poles must be taller (longer) to handle the extra load of fiber and telecommunications equipment. When the Carthage District office truck garages were designed in 1978, utility poles only held electric and telephone lines and were approximately 35 to 40-feet long. Today’s poles can be up to 50 feet to keep those additional wires high off the ground. That means longer trucks are needed to haul those poles to the worksite. “The equipment, trucks, and even the poles have grown with the times; the building housing them has not,” Carthage District Manager Tommy Pitman said. “The new trucks have less than one-inch clearance from the garage door. We’ve had to knock out part of the dock in the old truck bay to get these new vehicles inside.”
Six Years of Planning
UCEMC has studied options for the Carthage District office since 2015. The board of directors reviewed various alternatives. They included a total relocation to a new site, remodeling the customer service and engineering areas vs. rebuilding, and hybrid options of separating customer service and engineering into a different facility.
UCEMC General Manager/CEO Jennifer Brogdon says the board concluded that the most effective solution was to move forward immediately with a refurbishing plan.
“We’ll be remodeling the existing warehouse for operations’ storage needs and will construct an additional warehouse and pole yard to meet modern specifications,” says Brogdon. “We believe it will enhance members’ experience with us as they visit to sign up for service or to pay their bill. Re-working the existing customer service and engineering areas will provide our members with a spacious and convenient place to conduct business.”
The project’s completion date is set for approximately late October of 2022.