EXETER — Unitil has begun work on its new 54,000-square-foot operations facility just off of Route 101 that will provide more space and easier access to its local electric service territory.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday to officially mark the start of construction, which will feature a new building to house crews, engineering, a new centralized dispatch center and forestry teams.

The new hub along Continental Drive just off of Route 101 at Exit 9 will replace the utility company’s local operations facility on Drinkwater Road in Kensington, which has been used for many years and is now too small.

“This project, for us, is really a momentous occasion. We’ve been talking about this project, I would have to say, for 10 years now,” Unitil president and chief executive officer Tom Meissner said, adding that the company has been trying to find suitable land and a location that’s central to its territory.

Unitil’s corporate offices were once in Exeter, but moved to Liberty Lane in Hampton.

Meissner said it’s fitting that Unitil is building the new facility about a mile from its old corporate office.

Unitil officials said the new facility will house about 75 employees and with its close proximity to Route 101 and Route 125 will provide better access to its Seacoast service area, which stretches from Hampton to Atkinson.

The plan will include moving Unitil’s dispatch center from Portsmouth to the new two-story Exeter facility, which is expected to be completed next year.

Procon, a Manchester-based design-build company, will serve as construction manager for the project.

Town officials said they were pleased to have Unitil returning to town and to the Epping Road area, which has been the focus of development efforts for several years.

“We’re just very excited that they decided to locate here on Continental Drive. I think, as a town official, and I know other officials would say the same thing, it’s very, very important to keep the long-term companies that have benefited your community over and over within the community and so we could not be more excited to have them here for the long-term and we’re really excited about the future,” Town Manager Russ Dean said.

Darren Winham, the town’s economic development director, spoke about the benefits of the Tax Increment Financing District that was approved by voters in recent years to spur economic development on land along Epping Road.

“From an econ(omic) dev(elopment) standpoint I love this project because it shows that strategic, public and private investment and partnerships lead to smart, sustainable development,” he said.

Sunday, December 08, 2019