WATERVILLE — Kennebec Water District officials are looking to build an $11.5 million, 21,000-square-foot business office and operations complex on Drummond Avenue next year and move into the facility in 2023.
KWD has bought 15 1/2 acres at 131 Drummond Ave. for the complex, which would replace the facility at 6 Cool St. and part of the operation on South Street. The project cost includes the property purchase and hiring site development consultants.
The goal is to serve the district’s needs for now and well into the future, and to better maintain the water system and its equipment and materials, according to Roger Crouse, the district’s general manager.
“What we’re trying to do with this effort is set the path for the next 100 years,” Crouse said.
Founded in 1899, the Kennebec Water District supplies water from China Lake to about 9,000 residential and commercial customers in Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield, Benton and parts of Vassalboro through about 172 miles of pipe. The town of Oakland also buys water wholesale from the district.
Crouse told the Waterville Planning Board last week the district has owned the Cool Street site since 1878, when its predecessor organizations were Waterville Water Co. and Maine Water Co. In 2004, the district moved its business office from South Street, where it has a pumping station, to Cool Street, after building a new office there.
The district has 27 staff members and a 10-member board of trustees, elected by the communities it serves. Its water treatment plant in Vassalboro would remain there.
Three years ago, KWD officials began talking with trustees about moving the business office and operations to another site. While the Cool Street office and location are fine, they pose challenges, according to Crouse. The property is on a bend in Messalonskee Stream, and the water district is bound by the stream and limited by what it can do in terms of expansion because of the topography and slope to stream, he said.
The district looked at alternatives, including adding onto its current building on Cool Street, but officials felt the district needed a solution that would be better over the long term, according to Crouse.
“We did have some ideas for improvements there, but it just wasn’t going to work for us,” he told the Planning Board.
In the fall of 2018, KWD trustees voted to look for another site. In 2019, the district hired SMRT Inc. architects and engineers and Sebago Technics to do a conceptual plan and cost estimate. Later, they would return to do the final concept.
The district closed on the property in November, and plans to sell its 3,800-square-foot Cool Street office, according to Crouse.
At the May 17 Planning Board meeting, Owens McCullough of Sebago Technics said the new site is north of Greenwood Street and across from Arbo’s Towing & Repair.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has found no streams on the property, according to McCullough. The project will impact about an acre of wetlands, for which the district will need a Natural Resources Protection Act permit and one from the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
Permits, including those from the city, are expected to be in place by late this year or early next year, and no work would begin at the property until then, Crouse said.
The project construction manager is JF Scott Construction Co. of Winthrop.
Two entrances to the complex are planned, one on the south side for operations and the other on the north side for public access. In addition to the new business office and operations center, a 9,600-square-foot building is planned for storage of gravel and materials used for construction and maintenance of water pipe, according to Crouse.
Plans also call for 50 parking spaces for employees, visitors and trustees, and an after-hours drop box for customers.
Crouse said a fence is planned for around the complex’s perimeter.
Nicole Rogers, principal and and director of architecture for SMRT Inc., said the building would include an office for business staff, lobby for visitors, trustees training room, engineering department and break room, construction vehicle parking, locker room, storage mezzanine and an enclosed heating area to keep vehicles out of snow and cold, which should extend their years of service, according to Rogers.
She said officials were working on the design for the building’s exterior, which will be presented to the Planning Board.
Crouse said KWD’s preliminary goal was to create a facility that is carbon-neutral, using geothermal wells and photovoltaic panels on the building’s roof.
“It looks good,” Planning Board member Tom DePre said of the plans.
Board member Bruce White said he liked the goal of sustainability.
“I was impressed with the energy efficiency — net zero — so thanks to your team for that,” he said.
White asked if water district properties are taxable. Because the district is a quasi-municipal organization, it is exempted from taxes, although White noted that when the Cool Street property is sold, it could become taxable.
Mayor Jay Coelho asked if KWD’s new complex could cause water rates to increase.
Crouse said the district retired some debt last year and is still working out details of possible impacts on rates.
Abutters of the property on Drummond Avenue must be notified before KWD officials return to the board for final approval, likely in August, according to Crouse.
“We certainly want to work with the Planning Board and abutters to minimize impacts on neighbors,” he said.