By TIM HORAN
SOLOMON—DS&O’s headquarters is moving.
Don Hellwig, the utility company’s general manager and chief operating officer, said the building at the present location in downtown Solomon at 129 W. Main simply needs to be replaced.
But Solomon residents need not worry as the headquarters is only moving across town.
The DS&O Electric Cooperative, Inc. bought 11 acres of land in the Roelofsen Development project in north Solomon, which was recently annexed by the city.
The building is expected to be somewhere in the 45,000-square foot neighborhood with 12,000 to 15,000 square feet of office space.
“We have 22 vehicles in our fleet,” Hellwig said. “Not every one of those will be put under cover but most will be. When a call comes at 3 o’clock in the morning, we have to have a truck that is ready to roll. We’re on call 24/7 and can’t have a situation where you have to stop and thaw the truck out.”
The building will be north of the water tower and Marvin Brown, Jr. Field
DS&O rural electric cooperative serves county residents in 3,000 square miles areas around Salina and Abilene. DS&O started in Dickinson, Saline and Ottawa counties but has spread to other counties like Cloud, Montgomery and Geary counties and includes some of Ellsworth and Marion counties.
“Solomon is very near the junction of those three counties,” Hellwig said.
“We’re landlocked because we are surrounded by the largest firm here in Solomon which is Solomon Corp,” he said. “The building we’re in is at least 70 years old, or at least parts of it are that old and some of it is older than that. It’s very difficult to expand as equipment has gotten larger and we can’t get the trucks into the shops anymore.”
The building is also located in a floodplain.
“There has been water in this building at least four times since 1950,” Hellwig said, referring to floods in 1951, 1973, 1993 and 2008.
“Because of our federal mortgage there are a lot of things we can’t do that a private entity might be able to do,” he added. “For example, a neighbor might import soil and build a two-foot tall pad that would get them above the floodplain. We are not allowed to do that. Even if we had the space, we could not construct a new facility.”
DS&O searched for a new location including areas in Salina and Abilene. The company, which is owned by its consumers, settled on Solomon when the Roelofsen Development opened up. That land was bought by the owners of Abilene Machine, Randy and Todd Roelofsen and Mike Aufdenberge, who intend to develop it for businesses.
“We will be meeting with our architects and engineers next week,” Hellweg said.
Hellweg said Solomon is a good location because it is very close to the center of the DS&O service map.
“Other directions east, west and south of Solomon were still in the floodplain,” he said. “We talked about moving to Salina but that moves us away from one of our growth areas which is in the Junction City area. We have franchises with the city of Solomon, city of Abilene, city of Lindsborg and the city of Junction City.”
Westar also has a franchise in Abilene and services the bulk of the city. With Growth in west Junction City and by Milford Lake, DS & O has 2,000 customers within a few square miles of that area.
“We did not want to move further away. If we did, we would found ourselves in a position to build a satellite office which in the long run would have been more expensive for everyone,” he said. DS&O has a satellite office in Lindsborg.
“Politically and geographically it was good if we could stay close to where we were at,” he said. “They (Roelofsen Development) were trying to develop this piece of ground as a development tool for the local community. It gives us an advantage to be there first. We can help participate in that economic development for the area and stay close to where our roots are.”
Aufdenberge said the development is in the first phase.
“We’ll have about six different lots that are anywhere from 2 to 3 acres. There is also another block that is not developed yet and it’s another 40-plus acres for commercial business,” Aufdenberge said.
“Right now we are working on the infrastructure,” he said of roads, sewer, etc. “Hopefully we can get bids for that and we’ll start seeing the infrastructure pretty soon.”
The DS&O project is expected to start next fall and finish in 2014.