Utility district outgrows its 1959 headquarters | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Utility district outgrows its 1959 headquarters

A need for office space and concerns about snow loading and seismic activity has led South Tahoe Public Utility District to propose an estimated $5 million remodel and expansion of its administration building.

The building, constructed in 1959, was designed for about eight people. Today it is used by 25 to 30 employees.

In addition to a need for space, consultants hired to assess the structure say the building is in danger of collapse if a large snow load on its roof mixes with an earthquake, said spokesman Dennis Cocking.

Money to finance the remodel of half of the building, about 6,500 square feet, and construct a 14,500-square-foot addition, would not increase customer rates or require borrowing.

“Close to two-thirds of the project is budgeted,” said John Thiel, senior engineer.

It is not likely that any of the $69 million the district received from MTBE-related lawsuits will be used for the project.

“It would be very difficult to justify using any of the MTBE money for this,” Cocking said. “If MTBE never happened, we would have still outgrown the building and had a snow load problem. But I can’t say there might be some tiny aspect of the project that’s applicable.”

Last year the district was awarded $69 million to fix damages caused by MTBE, methyl tertiary butyl ether, which leaked into the district’s groundwater supplies.

MTBE, an oxygenate used to make fuel burn more efficiently, leaked into the ground from gas stations at South Shore causing the district to shut down 12 of its wells.

“This is actually a good example of how we have to keep those funds restricted,” Cocking said. “There still seems to be a misconception in town … that we’re rolling in dough. We netted enough to resolve the problem for the next 20 or 30 years, but it begins and ends right there. We don’t have any extra money.”

The district is aiming to begin construction in spring 2004, but its board of directors has yet to vote on the issue. Right now the district is looking to hire architects to produce a final design for the project.

The new building, which would attach to the older one, would cost an estimated $3.9 million. Remodel of the old building is estimated to cost about $1.2 million.

If the work gets done, the district’s office will be more accessible to the public and its plant will be more secure.

“It’s always been a concern of ours … especially in the wake of 9-11,” Cocking said. “We find people wandering around here all the time. It’s not usually dangerous, but it’s not the safest place to be either.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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