The old building at 131 W. 11th St. is not equipped to handle things like wireless networking.
The board’s supervisory control and data acquisition, or SCADA system, which allows the water works to control all its operations remotely, is running on 1980s technology, said general manager Jim Miller. The current system has been in place for 12 to 14 years and would be replaced in the move.
“A lot has to do with how we would like to operate and to accommodate new technologies that are available to us that we’re not able to do in our current building,” said Rodney Owens, assistant general manager.
The 11th Street building’s wiring and office configuration don’t support the new technology, Owens said.
The water works uses computer technology to monitor its security at water treatment facilities, tanks and pump stations. But much of that security relies on radio. In the new building, the water works will be able to upgrade to an Internet-run system. The water works has 14 tank sites, nine sewer pump stations, six water pump stations and four treatment plants that run on the aging SCADA control system
“In today’s utility all that stuff is indispensable,” Miller said. “Back before we had that technology, it wasn’t that big a deal because we didn’t have security issues other than the occasional vandalism. Nowadays, we have to worry about terrorists and all that stuff and those things are actually imposed on us by the federal government.”
The upgrade will set up a command center where all of the operations can be controlled in an emergency such as a hurricane, natural disaster or terrorist threat, he said.
It will also be a money-saving move, he said. The water works would no longer need to maintain the radio towers and radio transmitters it uses on the current system.
The new building also gives the water works some room to stretch out —about 12,000 square feet compared to the 10,000 square feet it currently has.
“We feel like, number one, that it will give us larger more updated more adequate space,” he said. “Ultimately, that will equate to a more efficient staff which will equate to better customer service.”
The construction at the new office space is underway and that is giving the water works the opportunity to customize everything to their needs.
“We’re paying a lot of attention now to the details of all our electronic connections, telephone system, security systems and that sort of thing,” Owens said.
Miller has been through a move like this once before in Birmingham. It’s not easy, but it’s possible, he said.
“We were able to do it that way then, so, I’m hoping we can do it that way this time,” Miller said. “We have so much less paper than we did back then. That was in the mid-80s. Gosh, it’s just picking up a hard drive basically and walking up with it now.”
The water works is planning a weekend move using in-house staff to do the work. It will close on a Friday, move on a Saturday and open in its new location on Monday. Miller expects the move to be fairly inexpensive because the current staff will be doing the majority of the work. He plans to use the construction crew working on the building to move the furniture.
However, the renovation of the new offices is costing the water works. Miller is not yet sure how much the water works will have to pay.
“That’s being spread out over a seven-year lease,” Miller said. “There’s some parts of (the lease) that haven’t been defined yet. It depends on whether we can close the sale of this building to the city, what the net is.”
Although administrators are planning everything out meticulously, they expect some glitches.
“We will try to make it as seamless as possible to our customers,” Owens said. “Whatever those glitches are, our goal is to not let it affect our customers.”
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.