West River Electric Association cut the ribbon Friday on a new, $10 million Rapid City branch office designed to serve a customer base that has grown sevenfold since 1955 when its old branch office was built.
And the new, two-story office, overbuilt on purpose at 94,000 square feet, should serve the co-op's customers for the next 50 years, said Mark Merchen, the co-op's manager of economic development and legislative and public affairs.
Headquartered in Wall, the co-op now serves more than 15,000 meters over 4,500 square miles including eastern Rapid City, Box Elder, Black Hawk, Bear Butte, Union Center, Hereford, Scenic, Interior and Quinn.
Merchen would not say what impact the $10 million expense would have on member electric bills. The expense was approved by the co-op's board of members, and did not need approval from state regulators, Merchen said.
He said all costs flow through to the customers.
“Yes, this is going to raise our cost of doing business,” he said. “I don't have anything I can say about it at this time.”
He said the board of directors deliberated carefully about the expense over many years.
“They're very cautious about making investments unless they're absolutely necessary,” he said.
It was first considered in 2000 when plans were laid for expansion of Elk Vale Road, also called the Southeast Connector, whose overpass eventually went through the former West River parking lot.
In 2002 the co-op bought the former Rapid Valley School next door and two additional acres with plans to demolish it and expand there. The southeast connector was completed in 2005, but that same year, Ellsworth Air Force Base was considered for closure. That, plus forecasts of increasing power costs, put expansion plans on hold until 2008, when the school was demolished.
Construction on the new branch began in 2009 and, due to the recession, bids came in at 25 percent below the architect's projection.
The new office opened Jan. 7 and West River started demolition on the old one a week later. The area should be cleaned up and landscaped by this summer, Merchen said.
He said the new facility includes office, warehouse and garage space for the co-op's trucks and line equipment. The extra office space will be available for lease.
Merchen assured co-op members that “the headquarters are in Wall and there are absolutely no plans to change that,” but said the bigger Rapid City branch makes sense because more than half of the meters served are within 20 miles of the new building.
“We hope it's a contribution to our community,” he said.
Contact Barbara Soderlin at 394-8417 or email@example.com.