BUCKHANNON – A downturn in the local oil and gas industry has opened up an opportunity for Buckhannon’s Street Department to expand its operations.
Buckhannon City Council last week gave the greenlight to purchasing a five-acre piece of fenced-in property on Mud Lick Road across from the city’s Waste Transfer Station and waste garage. The purchase will encompass three buildings, a welding crane and 44,000 square feet under roof.
According to the details of the agreement, the city will purchase the property from local businessman Mike Ross for $1.5 million, and the transaction will allow the city to relocate its Street Department from the current location on Factory Street – which provides 18,000 feet of storage space under roof – to the roomier Mud Lick location.
Smith International Inc., an oil field well and service business, previously occupied the property.
As part of the agreement, the city would acquire the land, structures and all machinery, equipment, furniture, fixtures “and everything currently present on the property,” city attorney Tom O’Neill explained at council’s Thursday, Oct. 1.
Mayor Robbie Skinner presented a PowerPoint comparison of the two properties, saying the Street Department currently has virtually no room to expand its operations at the Factory Street location. The mayor also said a roof on one of the main Street Department buildings “desperately needs replaced.” In addition, because of the current street garage’s location in the floodplain, upgrades and expansion are cost-prohibitive.
O’Neill presented a draft of the purchase agreement to council.
“What you have before you is a draft of the purchase sale agreement for the city’s acquisition of that property known as 395 Mud Lick Road which is just over five acres across Mud Lick Road from the city’s current Waste Transfer Station and waste garage,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill said the main terms of the agreement are that the city will pay $1.5 million for the property, and the closing date must take place by Dec. 31, 2020.
“There are express provisions in this agreement acknowledging that in order for this transaction to close, the city council would have to adopt an ordinance authorizing the acquisition of the property and the city’s Building Commission would have to acquire and approve financing for the property – that would be if council would want to proceed with the consideration of the transaction,” O’Neill told council members. “The next step is to call a meeting of the building commission.”
Councilman CJ Rylands said he strongly supported the purchase.
“I think we’ve all gone out there and looked at this property, and when we consider that we were contemplating one building as a new street garage, and it was going to cost around $950,000, this acquisition with five acres of rock base and three large buildings with heated floors represents a lot of value, and I strongly support the acquisition of this property,” Rylands said.
Skinner noted the Mud Lick Road property could house a potential fuel storage/service area and included a conference and administrative area, showers and locker rooms and a $300,000 commercial welding crane.
“The cost of new construction today is about $130 a square foot, so that means that if the City of Buckhannon were to construct a new [Streets Department] building from scratch, we’d only be able to put 10,000 to 11,000 square feet under roof for the same purchase price,” Skinner said. “If the acquisition is approved, we would essentially be purchasing the buildings you see here for approximately $33 dollars a square foot versus the typical cost for new construction is $130 square feet.”
Public Works Director Jerry Arnold said the current street garage on Factory Street was “piece-mealed” together, and the Street Department is severely short of storage space.
“A lot of the space that we use is simply storage or equipment storage and keeping that stuff inside is the longevity of it,” Arnold told council. “Currently, we do not have room to park that dump truck and some of the other trucks. We do not have adequate storage space for those vehicles inside of a facility at this time, so [the Mud Lick property] would also give us the ability to do that.”
City recorder Randy Sanders highlighted the importance of positive working environments, saying the city’s employees continually deliver on high expectations of city officials and residents.
“For us to continue to ask a lot, we need to not only give them the tools to do that but make an environment that can continue to breed productivity,” Sanders said. “I’m sure they feel like a bear in a phone booth really trying to make things happen on a daily basis, so this is positive move in helping our crews deliver the products and deliver the services they need to.”
Councilman Jack Reger made a motion to adopt the text of the agreement and authorize Skinner to execute it. Rylands seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
Following the meeting, Skinner said Ross has been eager to help the city for some time.
“Mike Ross is a great partner to our community, and he sees the value that this could bring to our organization,” Skinner said this week. “He understands that we have to be as frugal with public funds as possible.”
The mayor said Smith International had occupied the property previously.
“An oil and gas company previously occupied this piece of property, and with the downturn in the oil and gas industry, the likelihood of a new tenant occupying the space the way the Smith corporation once did is not likely in the immediate future.”
Skinner said the Street Department’s current headquarters on Factory Street is “knee-deep in the floodplain.”
“Our current facility is well within the flood zone, which prohibits us from making many enhancements, and we are out of room on Factory Street,” he said. “Our city trucks are larger; our equipment takes up more space. We’re always asked to do more for our community in order to better meet the needs of our Streets and Parks infrastructure and have a larger footprint.”