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Complex is heart, soul of WG&L

WG&L's Senior Lineman Pete Askew, left, and Assistant General Manager for Operations Keith Goodin at the Lily Pond Road plant. (Nov. 2, 2012)

WG&L's Senior Lineman Pete Askew, left, and Assistant General Manager for Operations Keith Goodin at the Lily Pond Road plant. (Nov. 2, 2012)

ALBANY, Ga. -- For most in Albany, the city's Water, Gas & Light Commission consists of the administrative offices at Washington and Pine and the drive-through payment facility at Washington and Flint.

The real WG&L, though, is located on 587 pristine acres of land at 1726 Lily Pond Road in South Albany. It's there that the utility draws water from one deep and eight shallow wells, where around 170 of its 250 employees work, and where more than 64,000 square feet of office space is utilized to keep the city's water, gas and electricity flowing.

After the devastating Flood of '94, WG&L officials officially decided the time had come to move from the utility's cramped 916 N. Front St. operations site. In addition to its lack of space, the site was being constantly hit by thieves who'd crank up on-site heavy machinery, break down fencing and haul off wire and other materials they could sell.

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WG&L Senior Line Supervisor Charlie Bass inspects a line truck at the Lily Pond Road plant.

"Water, Gas & Light outgrew that site," Assistant General Manager for Operations Keith Goodin said of the Front Street facilities. "We grew from a nice little one-horse operation into something much bigger. We were getting hit by thieves constantly, our office space was small and crowded, and our people were having to park on railroad property.

"We started looking around for a new site and actually bought 10 to 13 acres of land off Phillips and Westover in West Albany. But Mr. (General Manager Lemuel) Edwards said he'd like for us to find land south of Oakridge."

The property off Lily Pond, which had long belonged to the Haley family, fit the bill perfectly. Once required studies were completed and the green light was given, Goodin and Deputy Director of Engineering Lee Daniel started designing an all-purpose compound that would meet all the utility's needs.

"We needed a certain amount of land because the wells could not be too close together," Goodin said. "And the feds told us we had to have a treatment plant on site. All water that leaves this plant (to enter the city's water system) goes through the treatment plant.

"Lee and I looked into putting everything we needed under one roof, but the more we looked at it the more it became a nightmare of hallways."

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WG&L Apprentice Lineman Kenneth White picks up supplies from the warehouse and loads them on his truck in preparation for tomorrow's work at the Lily Pond Road plant. (Nov. 1, 2012)

So Goodin and Daniel roughed out a five-structure plan: a 19,500-square-foot warehouse, a 17,600-square-foot administration building, a 10,300-square-foot gas operations building, a 10,100-square-foot electric operations building and a 6,900-square-foot water operations building.

Several storage sheds and shelters were a part of the original design, but when Edwards said $1 million needed to be cut from the project, they were removed. Eventually, though, they have been added and provide protection for often fragile materials from the intense summer sunshine.

Six WG&L employees now work in the warehouse, 15 in the administration building, 65 in the electric department, 60 in the water department and 24 in the gas department.

The operations facilities, all under the administration of Goodin, are a well-kept model of order and efficiency. Three hundred acres of trees have been planted to cut down on the amount of mowing that has to be done and to provide a natural wind break, and man-made wetlands clean the land of metals and other waste byproducts that are part of the monthly process of backwashing filters in the facility's treatment plant.

The warehouse stores some $3 million in essential materials commonly used by water, gas and electric department crews.

"Over the years, we've come to expect certain weather events like spring and summer storms, so we try to make sure we have supplies in our warehouse that we need to deal with those types of emergencies," interim Assistant Purchasing Agent Mike Trotter said. "Every now and then we might get some surprises that force us to scramble (for supplies), but for the most part we stay ready."

Even in the case of dire emergencies, warehouse supervisor Mike Elliott says, there are sufficient supplies to keep crews from waiting to respond.

"Even if we have to procure other materials, we're going to have enough on hand to get started," Elliott said. "We meet the needs of our crews, and we're available 24-7."

Beyond the strategically located employee parking lot, which is fenced in for protection and convenient to each of the three department structures, is a section of non-live overhead wires attached to poles. The area is used as a training ground for apprentice linemen.

Inside the water, gas and electric buildings are specially designed work areas that allow employees to complete tasks even in inclement weather. Each features unique storage and work structures built by staff.

"The idea when we designed everything out here was to make it environmentally pleasant but functional for each department," Goodin said. "The specific needs of each department were taken into account in the design.

"The architect wasn't exactly pleased with some of the elements -- like putting air conditioning units on the ground rather than on the roof -- because of aesthetics, but I told him, 'This isn't the mall.' Our challenge was to keep each structure as low-maintenance as possible. We've been out here since '04, and we've had no real problems or complaints so far."

Total cost of the complex came in at around $25 million, but Goodin's and Daniel's work on the project saved WG&L in excess of $2 million.

"Lee served as inspector on the site, and we covered most of his daily duties so that he could attend every contractor's meeting that was held," Goodin said. "And nobody spent a dime on this project without this office knowing about it."

As Goodin takes a visitor on the "dollar tour" of the WG&L facilities, there's no mistaking the pleasure he takes in pointing out small details -- in design, in operation, in efficiency -- that the average person might miss. His pride is understandable; after all, the complex consumed almost a full decade of his life as he took it from concept to reality.

"We take pride in providing services to the people of Albany at as low a price as possible," Goodin says. "I think we have a pretty good system here."