Water Association builds $1.3 million center
Published 12:11 am Sunday, September 18, 2011
NATCHEZ — Christmas will be right on time for the Adams County Water Association, as its new office will be open for business in December.
With 5,800 active connections, ACWA General Manager Ken Herring said the association is one of the largest in the state. ACWA is a nonprofit water system owned by its members.
The operation center’s new home is just a few yards away from its current location at U.S. 61 North.
Herring said the new building is one component of a 20-year comprehensive plan to strengthen and build infrastructure and the new operations center while maintaining good service at affordable rates.
The 20-year plan’s cost is approximately $7.3 million. Herring said ACWA has met their goal in 11 years.
Herring said the plan met its early deadline thanks to help from two grants totaling $3 million from Community Development Block Grant and Environmental Protection Agency capitalization grants. Low interest loans for more than $5 million — from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state Revolving Loan Program — have helped the association reach its financial goal.
While the new building costs approximately $1.3 million, the rest of the $7 million outlined in the 20-year plan is used for infrastructure and other projects — like new elevated storage tanks, new water mains, generators and water plants.
Herring said the water association also scored a discount with local contractors since bids came back low.
“With the economy, it’s the perfect time for construction projects,” Herring said. “Those projects, for the last couple years, are at 20 percent less than cost. People are trying to maintain jobs.”
Herring said he was glad to use the local contractors — Wilmar Construction Company of Vidalia is handling construction and landscaping, and Blain Company of Natchez is finishing the parking lot.
Herring said he wanted the new building to reflect what the association does in the community. A lighted wall of water flowing down mosaic tile will be one of the first things customers see when they walk in the door, which flows to a fountain centered outside the entrance.
“The architect really listened,” Herring said. “The main thing we want to convey — is that the office will reflect our water system. We are modern.”
Herring said the architect, Michael Barranco of Jackson, had won several awards with his designs and was well known statewide.
“Michael was tragically killed in a terrible car wreck in February that happened less than a week after Wilmar was awarded the project,” Herring said. “It’s been neat seeing his vision come together.”
Herring went on to say that the Wilmar and Blain companies have provided excellent work, and customers should enjoy stopping by the beautiful new facility.
“We are well-satisfied,” he said.
Flatscreen monitors will provide information to customers inside the new facility.
Herring said the building deadline is right around the corner — December 12, 2011, with a grand opening, probably in March.
The new facility is constructed with employee safety in mind, Herring said, with secure doors and big windows so employees and managers have an open view. Like the current location, the facility will have a night drop, teller station and drive-through window.
Located behind the facility is a field office full of equipment and supplies. That field office was to be built after the completion of the new facility, but a fire destroyed the Foster Mound location, so officials decided to go ahead and build the new one on site.
“And that was also done by local contractors,” Herring said. “The bids were low enough to pretty much get everything.”
Herring said Wilmar will handle the landscaping around the building, and old billboards will be removed from the site.
Herring said that in a time of emergency, it is vital that the water association be self supporting so water can still get to customers — some who live on the edges of Jefferson and Franklin counties. So, the new building is infused with large steel supports, designed to keep the building standing in a storm.
“The building can handle a pretty good impact,” Herring said. “And the roof is designed to withstand strong winds. But anything can happen, so we built it with that in mind.”
Herring said a backup generator, supplies and even food will be stored in case of emergency.
But what is next for the Adams County Water Association after employees get settled in their new building?
“Our next plan is to computerize the work order system and billing — getting set up for that,” Herring said. “We are also about to launch our website to make bill paying easier for someone.”
The website will be launched sometime in October.
“Our board has a proactive motto — do the best we can for our customers, and provide the latest technology.”
Herring said while the ACWA’s rates are low, but they have applied for a USDA grant to assist low-income customers and some elderly customers.
“This new rate structure, if approved, will lower the cost of service to 800 water connections.”
Herring said the 12 employees of the ACWA are eager to get comfortable in their shiny new digs.
“I know the office staff is used to being on top of each other,” Herring said.
Herring said while it might seem like an early end to the 20-plan, that’s not the case.
“We want people to understand, just because this is almost finished, doesn’t mean it’s the end,” Herring said. “It’s the beginning.”