Blue Ridge Coop construction set to make more room for members

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

According to Blue Ridge officials, two chief concerns drove the building plans. One is what officials said was the long-overdue establishment of a modern, multifaceted operations center. Another was their 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. According to officials, Blue Ridge needs to have at least five 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 the annual gathering of 5,000 to 6,000 attendees had also been a challenging and expensive proposition. Adequate concession stands to service those in attendance have presented additional costly and complicated difficulties, officials said.

The construction project is designed to address those and other shortcomings in “a comprehensive and effective way.”

Ultimately, members with physical handicaps will find plenty of good parking spaces near the meeting site, officials said, as 10 acres of land immediately adjacent to the meeting facility has been purchased and is 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 to more-distant locations on Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative property. The new 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, the 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 the 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.”