By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Earth is being moved next to the Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park for construction of an $11 million service center to house line operations for Empire District Electric Co.
The center, which is to be completed by May 2014, is being built by Crossland Construction Co., of Columbus, Kan., at the southwest corner of Kodiak Road and East 32nd Street, or Route FF.
The site also will be home to a new substation, which will be an additional multimillion-dollar investment, to provide increased service to the adjacent business park that is experiencing major growth.
Nearing completion in the park is a new $5.5 million distribution center for Coca-Cola Bottling Co., which is adding jobs and will ultimately employ 105 people. Work also is under way on an $85 million pet food manufacturing plant and distribution center, which will be operated by Blue Buffalo Co., of Wilton, Conn. The plant, which will employ up to 150 people, will be completed in 2015.
Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said 11 businesses are now operating in the park, as well as the Joplin School District, which is using a spec building there as a temporary site for East Middle School, which was destroyed in the 2011 tornado.
Amy Bass, spokeswoman for Empire, said the company has outgrown its existing line operations center at 901 E. Fourth St. The center originally was built in 1908 for Joplin Casket Co. It was acquired by Empire in 1916.
“Our system has greatly expanded since 1916, and the materials needed to maintain a larger system have grown,” Bass said. “We are bursting at the seams there.”
That site also includes a second brick building that was constructed by Empire in 1927. The buildings have structural and roof problems, are prone to flooding, and do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They also lack office space.
To handle the growth, Empire has leased buildings at 311 E. Third St. and at 911 Langston Hughes-Broadway.
“Our people are spread between multiple buildings,” Bass said. “We want to get them under one roof. We have outlived the space.
“Our trucks are so much larger than the trucks we used years ago. You can’t get them into the garages. When the weather is bad, you have to clear them of snow and ice before you can do anything with them. That slows our response to outages.
“It’s also difficult for us to get on and off Fourth Street. And, we want to move this truck traffic off of Fourth Street. That’s one of the things we are hoping to improve by moving.”
Bass said the new center, which will have 110,000 square feet of space, is being constructed on a 38-acre site, which should provide sufficient room for growth in the future.
“We want a building that will be built for us to accommodate our operation,” she said. “We are not taking someone else’s building and making it work.”
The building also will be home to a new command center, the engineering department, line operations, mapping, vegetation and land management, meter and transformer shops, and warehouse space.
The site also will have improved security and a basement storm shelter for the 100 or so employees who will work there.
Bass said the number of linemen working at the center should remain about the same.
“Over the years, the number of linemen that make up a crew has gone down because of technology,” she said. “With better equipment, you need fewer men. A line crew used to have eight or 10 men. Now, two- and three-man crews are the standard.”
THE CROSSROADS CENTER Business and Distribution Park opened in 1997. With the Coca-Cola and Blue Buffalo projects, it will provide work for 800 people. Nearly half of the 670-acre site is still available for development.