LCUB to get new complex
Board considers three sites, facility would cost $15-20 million

Stephanie Myers-News Herald

With tight spaces and technology needs pushing Lenoir City Utilities Board out of its current circa-1954 main office downtown, a proposed LCUB complex could cost $15-20 million, according to preliminary estimates.

The utility is considering three sites for the new main office, and all three connect to U.S. Highway 321.

At a special called meeting mid-morning Thursday, the board authorized LCUB General Manager Shannon Littleton to enter negotiations with the sites' owners. If all runs smoothly, construction on a new complex could begin as early as this spring, Littleton said.

All three sites have positives and negatives for LCUB's use, but Littleton said a site along Creekwood Park Boulevard caught his attention.

"I guess the negatives for the site, which to me I could speak for positives for this site for probably quite a while with redundant power and fiber being readily available among other things infrastructure-wise," Littleton said to the board. "The traffic pattern is going to be minimal compared to the other two locations, and it gives us the closest access to west Knoxville for the electric department to access in case of emergency. I think there are some very beneficial factors for this site."

The Creekwood site, which would sit near the Loudon County Visitors Bureau and the rock quarry, offers 25-30 acres.

A negative, like one other site LCUB is considering, is moving a considerable amount of earth to make the site construction ready.

"All three are good sites," Littleton said.

LCUB is also considering sites along Town Creek Parkway and the intersection of Highway 321 and Hightway 70, offering the utility about 24 acres, are traffice at the schools' campuses, an area on the property that potentially is "not usable" and a "tremendous amount of earth moving" to make the site ready for construction.

"That's one ting I just don't think that the board is going to take the risk on trying to get out at this site with the school traffic. With that said, though, that's probably the one true negative," Littleton said. "Unfortunately, that's a big negative."

Positives to the site, however, include three entrance possibilities for the facility along Highway 321, Highway 70 and Friendship Road.

At Town Creek Parkway, the site, offering no more than 27 acres, sits closer to Old Hwy 95 and Harrison Avenue and would have more school traffic.

"This site is probably aesthetically on of the prettiest sites. Also, it's going to be a little more site ready than the other ones because it's going to be a flat piece of property," Littleton said, adding that latter point could also be an issue.

"There is really no way to treat this site as a site where we can hide our lay down material," Littleton said. Another negative to the site, Littleton said, is the unknown traffic pattern for the coming roadway.

"You have two schools there too," board member Bobby Johnson, Sr. said.

"I don't think this one has quite the difficulty that the (Highway 321 and Highway 70) site would have, but it is an unknown, and I think if you're talking about a multi-million-dollar facility in the future I just don't know if the board wants to take that risk or not at that particular site," Littleton said.

"We need to plan for future growth," board member Jim Shields said. "We need the acreage part of either site, whichever you decide upon. You need room to expand."

Each site offers different layouts and would cater to a different facility, Littleton said. According to a budget analysis of construction costs by architecture and interior designers McCarty Holsaple McCarty, the Town Creek site is projected to cost $15,538,688 for the building alone, the Highway 321 and Highway 70 site building is projected to cost $16,369,150, all excluding site preparation and land acquisition.

Littleton said a new building is long overdue. "With some confidence I would say that we are probably four times the size now that we were in the '50s -- maybe five or six times. We are considerably larger and I'm sure we're more than double the employees that we were in the '50s," he said.

"We're still living in the '60s and '70s writing outages down on note pads and having dispatchers to come in. We can't upgrade our technology because we don't have any way to upgrade it. We've got to have a new building," Aikens said, adding that ratepayers will not see an increase.

"And it's not going to involve a tax increase, I want to stress that," he said.

The building will also include a community room that could seat 500-1,000 people, Aikens said.

It's still too early to determine the fate of the current building, Aikens said, but the payment center in downtown Lenoir City will remain open.

"Well, we're gong to keep a presence downtown as long as I'm mayor. Unless the board decides otherwise, I think we need it and so we're going to keep that presence downtown. There's a lot of people who use that payment center," Aikens said.