About one month has passed, and Jump River Electric Cooperative staff are slowly settling into the co-op’s new headquarters in Ladysmith.
Paving was completed last week at the $5.9 million facility along Wis. 27 on the city’s north side. With construction overseen by Eau Claire general contractor Hoeft Builders nearly completed, the project came in about $200,000 under budget.
Jump River Electric Cooperative General Manager Jim Anderson noted the cooperative’s leadership has been extremely cost conscious throughout planning and constructing of a state of the art building without raising utility rates for consumers. He noted no exposed beams, decorative landscaping rocks near the front entrance or frills were included, citing the structure’s functionality over its appearance.
“Nothing in the building was built over the top. It was built for practicality and longevity,” Anderson said.
Co-op leaders were able control costs through modernization and efficiency of new work practices and equipment,” according to Anderson.
“The savings allowed us to build the building without raising our rates,” he said.
The structure is one of the first major buildings travelers see as they enter Ladysmith, coming from the north.
“It really dressed up this side of the city,” Anderson said.
During the planning process, co-op officials toured other utility cooperative facilities in the area. They used this time to identify what works best and include these features in the new construction.
“Just about every co-op we looked at,” Anderson said.
Overall, the new construction features 38,000 square feet of floor space. The handicapped accessible building covers about 12,000 square feet of floor space, including 9,000 square feet of offices and 3,000 square feet for a new community room. There is also a new attached garage with 26,000 square feet of floor space.
The original office complex of 8,556 square feet was built in 1952.It was added on in the 1990s with an additional 2,800 square feet. Overall, the new floor space including garages is less total space than all the previous buildings, according to Anderson.
“When you can build a new building and not raise rates, that is huge,” Anderson said.
The new front lobby is handicapped accessible featuring a display case highlighting the co-op’s lengthy history. There are also rooms designated for member consulting, employee wellness and crew training.
The community room, which can serve as the emergency services base for the county, has meeting space for up to 70 people. It is equipped with large screen monitors and communication technology useful for distance learning and other outreach.
“It is very well set up for education and communication like outreach. It is a good setting for what we do,” Anderson said. “We are pretty proud of this room.”
Off the community room is a board meeting room for the cooperative leadership. It comes equipped with audio visual equipment for teleconferencing and other virtual communication uses.
“This building is light years ahead of where we were at,” Anderson said.
Cooperative leadership is looking forward to a time when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
“Once we get to a normal situation we will be able to hold some special events in here,” Anderson said.
More private offices that allow staff to work with fewer disturbances have had the intended benefit of increasing employee productivity.
Overall, the structure took one year to complete after the May 2019 groundbreaking.
The move-in has been taking place in phases, and staff is still settling in. A new dropbox is slated for installation at the main driveway entrance. An electric vehicle charging station also is available in the parking lot open to the public.
Plans for a grand opening and ribbon cutting have been put on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic and recommended limits on social gatherings. The co-op’s annual meeting is tentatively slated for Saturday, July 25, at the outdoor Legacy Theater in the city’s Memorial Park.
Staff began moving into the new spaces on March 23. Old structures on the property have been razed, except for an existing garage that was painted and repurposed. A digital message board also has been installed along the highway.
Outside, the co-op grounds have been mostly fenced with additional lighting for greater security. The spacious work lot is mostly paved and screened to help the facility blend in the surrounding residential area.
Anderson is anxious to invite in the community so they may see what the co-op has built.
“The building is basically going to be donated to the membership. It is about the membership. It is about them,” Anderson said.