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New Wadena Utilities shop coming along, despite Old Man Winter

Artist's conception of the Wadena Utilities Shop when it is finished. The actual colors of the building will be different shades of gray. Graphic provided by Hammer's Construction1 / 4
The Electric and Water Utilities Shop being built on County Road 4 east of Wadena should be ready for occupancy by mid-May. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal2 / 4
A crew from Hammers Construction worked on the new Wadena Utilities Shop Wednesday afternoon as the mercury hovered at zero. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal3 / 4
Dave Evans4 / 4

Hammer's Construction Project Manager Shane Hendrickson knows something about working outdoors in a Minnesota winter.

The brutally-cold weather that held Wadena in its grip the last week of December and the first week of January cost the Perham builder some man-hours as they proceeded with a new utility shop on County Road 4 near Sunnybrook Park.

While temperatures in the second week of January moderated, the challenges of working outdoors for the construction crew are still a factor.

"If the high for the day is below zero, we don't like to work - it's just too cold," Hendrickson said. "Machinery doesn't work when it's below zero."

Frozen fingers do not work so well either. In short, it's not worth the effort.

Hendrickson cannot remember a time when winter building was not possible in Minnesota despite the threat of frigid temperatures. Ground thawing machines help, so does being able to work inside plastic-wrapped shelters, but the bottom line is dictated by Old Man Winter's mood.

"It's not much you can do about it," Hendrickson said. "If you can figure it out you'd be rich."

The building progress on the $2.25 million utility shop has been good despite some unexpected delays.

"Yes, considering the building itself got pushed back a month," Wadena Electric and Water Supervisor Dave Evans said. "The steel was supposed to show November, it didn't show up until December, but they are still planning to finish on time."

The building is going to have floor heating, something their old building on the corner of Highway 10 and Highway 71 lacked.

"We're going to have a pretty efficient off-peak heating system in there that uses floor heat in the shop area and in the office," Evans said. "The office area actually has an air-to-air heat pump so you can use them for heating and cooling. They will run between 200 and 300 percent efficient, as opposed to just a resistive electric heat."

The amount of space gained over their former building, which is scheduled for demolition after being purchased by MnDOT as part of the Highway 10 project, is not significant. Evans said the 50x60 foot office portion of the new building will be a tad less, but there will be more room in the 80x160 foot shop.

"It's about a wash," Evans said.

The needs of the Highway 10 project actually triggered the move to County Road 4, according to Evans, not a need for more space. The shop they are leaving behind was originally built early in the early 20th Century as a steam generation plant for heating downtown businesses. It was remodeled in the 1970s.

"I don't think we needed to do it," Evans said. "We were getting a little bit tight in the shop area, but we were making it work. When MnDOT wanted to buy that building the time was right to relocate entirely."

The building they are leaving has been located on a hot piece of commercial property, which has never been a need for Evans and his department.

"We're the operations center; we build the lines, we don't need to be in a retail space, we don't need to be where there are people around," Evans said. "We load and unload semis with wire and transformers, 20-foot sticks of conduit and power poles."

Still, the chance for more elbow room should be a welcome change. Evans' crews have been working in some buildings just north of their old building while they wait to move into their new digs. The buildings are next to the Wadena Municipal Liquor Store and a stone's throw away from the county's recycling bins. Both draw a lot of traffic.

"It's getting more and more crowded, more liquor store traffic and the recycle bins are here now so everytime we are trying to unload a truck we've got people running through our parking lot. It's just gotten to be kind of a safety issue for me," Evans said. "Before we used to kind of have this parking lot all to ourselves, but now you get a hundred cars a day."

The new shop is expected to be completely up by mid-April, according to Hendrickson. Evans has been told his department can move in around the middle of May.