SMU ready to have newer building in city

Better efficiencies, access to new tech key reasons to replace aging facility
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

An 82-year-old building in Shawano will soon be nothing more than a memory as Shawano Municipal Utilities celebrated the beginning of a new facility being built.

The new 29,000-square-foot SMU building on North Sawyer Street is expected to be built by fall 2024 and is expected to cost $12.9 million once all is said and done. Currently, SMU is operating out of office space rented in the GenEx headquarters across the street.

SMU Manager Bruce Gomm said the process to get a new building for the electric utility has been going on for more than five years. He noted that, when he came on board in January, he had questioned why SMU was going to build its new building in the same location as the old when he thought there should be a bigger area for the new building and other amenities.

Gomm soon learned that removing SMU from downtown Shawano would be akin to amputating a body part.

“My first question was ‘Why aren’t we looking at something on the edge of town with five to 10 acres and all the room in the world?’” he said. “Then I got to Shawano, and I got to know the community. I learned that SMU is part of downtown and always should be. We are accessible to our customers. We are part of this community, and we are here to stay and serve you.”

Gomm noted that building near downtown might inspire other businesses to see the value in relocating to Shawano and build up the area even further.

“It’s an investment in the community,” Gomm said. “We’ll be paying more taxes because we’ll have more value.”

Gomm noted that the groundbreaking is purely ceremonial, with officials putting shovels into a prepared pile of dirt instead of actually breaking the ground for the new building.

“I’ve had a couple of employees comment that we’re not actually digging. We should be over there where we need foundation holes,” Gomm said. “This is really just a ceremony to celebrate the start of the project.”

The manager boasted about the newer amenities and how, in the long run, it will save the utility money compared to how much it cost to maintain and operate the old building.

“It allows our staff to have the latest technologies,” Gomm said. “It allows us to have more efficiencies. It’s ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant and probably one of the bigger things is it allows us to be safe.”

City Clerk Lesley Nemetz, the city’s community relations manager, spoke on behalf of City Administrator Eddie Sheppard, who had been delayed at an event at Timberpro, and noted that work with Timberpro, SMU and Aarrowcast is helping to move Shawano forward into the future.

“These things are connected,” Nemetz said, reading from Sheppard’s prepared speech. “They are all part of our shared goals to continue to move Shawano forward. These infrastructure developments are just a few examples of the tremendous growth and development we are seeing in our community. Projects like these strengthen our foundation and lay the groundwork for future success.”

Roger Pescinski, president of the Shawano Municipal Utilities board, noted that talking about a new building started in October 2017, but even though plans were drafted, the effort was shelved because of the potential cost of the building. The discussion was revived in 2021, he said, after it was realized that a lot of money was being wasted on maintaining the existing building.

“Every year, when we start the budget process, we look at how much money we need to put into the building, and to keep employees happy and productive,” Pescinski said. “We don’t have enough room for all of the vehicles here, with things parked off-site. Our idea was to bring everything back into one location.”