SMU building finished ahead of schedule

Mild winter allows exterior work to continue unabated
By: 
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The new Shawano Municipal Utilities building at the corner of East Green Bay Street and North Sawyer Street has been completed weeks ahead of schedule, thanks to a mild winter, which allowed SMU employees to come back home sooner.

Since August 2023, SMU has been renting office space from its neighbors at GenEx. Work has gone full speed ahead while the 29,000-square-foot building was put together. Talk about a new building started back in 2017 but really moved forward in earnest in 2021.

The building replaces the previous service center that had some portions in existence for over 90 years, and SMU officials claimed renovating the existing building, which was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, would cost more than a new building, estimated to be $12.9 million.

The new building had originally been slated for a fall opening, with August being the earliest conceived date for opening. In June, however, SMU employees were back on their side of the street, which SMU manager Bruce Gomm considers to be a good thing.

“It feels really good,” Gomm said. “We’re not quite two months ahead of schedule.”

The plan had been to get as much exterior up as possible prior to the first snow fly and then spend the frigid days doing interior work, according to Gomm. With much of the winter boasting daytime temperatures above the freezing mark, the exterior construction continued through January and February, according to Gomm.

“They were able to continue on with both inside and outside all winter long,” he said. “That’s what really helped us push through.”

The new building has all the modern heating and air conditioning amenities, Gomm said, as well as LED adaptive lighting, which he described as the most beneficial in SMU’s day-to-day operations. However, there’s much more than the simple things that make the building better than its predecessor.

“A couple of the concerns we had with the old building, one particular for me as the manager, was the lack of security,” Gomm said. “We had really no way to protect employees from any bad actors. So with the new building, all the doors are secured with door passes, and we actually have bulletproof glass set up for our two front desk receptionists. It’s much safer for our employees.”

The new building also has solar panels on the roof to help generate electricity inside.

“We’re working to be good environmental stewards,” Gomm said.

In the process of construction, workers found some underground structures, including concrete foundations — one of which had contaminated soil, according to Gomm. He noted there was contingency funding to deal with that.

“That was really the only challenge we faced through construction,” Gomm said. “It went really smoothly.”

Gomm said he hopes SMU’s new building might encourage neighboring community utilities to “spruce up” their infrastructure. He said the building was designed to expand if the community’s electrical needs grow.

“If Shawano doubles or triples in size, we’ll need more people to take care of that,” Gomm said. “Who knows what will happen in the next 30 or 50 years?”

A grand opening event with ribbon cutting is planned for 10 a.m. Aug. 16 at the new building, 122 N. Sawyer St., Shawano.

lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com