By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
It won’t happen in the immediate future, but before too long those who come to pay their West Escambia Utilities bills won’t be coming to Atmore City Hall.
The utility company, which is not a part of city government but has operated out of city hall for most of its 73-year existence, purchased several months ago the Ridgeley Street property from which Helton Service Center once operated.
WEU plans to tear the existing structure down and build a new headquarters there.
“We’ve been at this location for as long as I can remember,” said Kenny Smith, WEU’s manager, who has worked for the company 28 years. “We used to be in the (administrative portion) of city hall. We wanted to change locations and offer another service, so we bought Glenn Helton’s building.”
West Escambia Utilities, originally named City of Atmore Utilities, currently provides three primary services — water, natural gas and sewer — to an area that stretches as far west as the Baldwin County line and as far north as the state prison complex and Robinsonville.
The new service to which Smith referred is the sale of appliances, mostly gas appliances.
“We felt the need for selling appliances,” he said. “It will be mainly gas stoves and dryers, but we’ll also have electric dishwashers and refrigerators that match those, and we’ll have gas fireplace logs. Our prices will compare to the big box stores because we’ll provide the gas for the appliances. We’re going to start small and see where it goes.”
The utility company’s decision to relocate was spurred mainly by the fact that it has outgrown its present headquarters, which is squeezed between Atmore Police Department and the city’s administrative offices.
“We have about 1,600 square feet of workspace here, and the new building will have about 4,200 square feet,” said Smith. “It’s very tight here. The employees have nowhere to take their breaks, so they have to take them at their desks. The new building will have a lot more room.”
Plans for the new WEU headquarters building include an exterior design that will blend in with the downtown revitalization effort and the planned establishment of a historic district.
Other plans include a quarterly or semiannual Customer Appreciation Day and a Kids Corner, at which children can learn about natural gas and gas safety through videos and activity books that include mazes and other activities geared toward usage of natural gas.
Smith added that the project will probably require some degree of tweaking before the plans are finalized.
“That’s the game plan,” he said. “It’s in the hands of the architect and the engineers right now, but we would like to start by the end of the year. We don’t have any bids or estimates yet. Some of this will be a slow go, but that’s our plan. And some of the things we have planned are just ideas; nothing has been written in stone.”