By the end of January, Stowe Electric Department will be settling into its new home, enjoying the feeling of ownership, rather than paying rent.
The municipal utility’s new headquarters is on Moscow Road, with a 4,000-square-foot office building and a 6,000-square-foot, six-bay garage.
Since 2010, the utility has rented office space on Old Farm Road. Before that, it was at the Baggy Knees Shopping Center, and before that was in the historic building at 1 S. Main St. that now houses the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum.
The utility also owns a garage on Dump Road, where it’s now storing equipment.
Fifteen employees work at Stowe Electric Department, including Ellen Burt, the general manager. Seven work in operations, and eight in the field.
Since the new garage is big enough to hold all the utility’s equipment, the old garage can be leased to the Lamoille Regional Solid Waste Management District, which operates the Stowe Transfer Station on Dump Road, for $1,600 a month, Burt said.
“It’s very minimal,” Burt said of the rent, but her department wants to help the solid waste district consolidate its two offices in Stowe.
“I’m happy for them,” Burt said.
Susan Alexander, manager of the solid waste district, said no lease has been signed yet, but renting the garage would allow additional parking and better materials storage at the Stowe Transfer Station.
It will cost $2 million for BreadLoaf Construction to build the new facilities. Burt said that’s been paid from proceeds from selling property the department owned, as well as an agreement with FirstLight Fiber, which rents some of the municipal utility’s lines.
No ratepayer money was used for the new facility, Burt said.
The grand tour
Burt was excited as she led a brief tour around the unfinished facilities Monday morning.
The new office is still a work in progress, with BreadLoaf Construction workers sanding, cutting and priming surfaces on both of its two floors. Burt’s office, as well as accounting and regulatory compliance, will be upstairs, and a conference room and reception area awaits downstairs.
The new office space is on a former hydroelectric dam and gristmill site from the 1800s, from which Stowe Electric Department used to buy a small amount of power, and Burt feels a certain responsibility to the electrical stewards who came before herself and her department.
That’s why she plans to seek grants to restore the red and brown building that once housed the gristmill and hydroelectric facilities, so it can be a public educational space on the picturesque riverbank.
The former turbines were flooded during Tropical Storm Irene, but Burt hopes to land grants to restore them to working order. If that works out, they will provide a small percentage of the power needed to operate Stowe Electric Department’s new headquarters.
The office will also have a 52-kilowatt solar cell and a demand monitor inside the building, “so people can come in and see how it works,” Burt said. She hopes that the more people see functional solar power, the more likely they become to learn whether it makes sense for their homes.
Burt calls the new facility more of an “energy park” than just an office.
To pay homage to the hydroelectric dam formerly located there, Stowe Electric purchased its old gristmill stone, circa 1880, at auction for $2,900 last March, and it will be fixed into the sidewalk just before the door.
The old stones from the gristmill and dam were salvaged, too, and used to construct a retaining wall.
“I wanted it to look like an old building, to fit in,” she said. “We’re tying in the old. … I tried to really stay with that theme.”
Burt will invite Stowe residents and organizations to use the facility to hold meetings or events, when it’s not in use.
Burt says the utility’s employees have already begun clearing out the old office in preparation.
“The employees can’t wait,” she said. “We’re all very excited.”