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Published: Wednesday, 11/12/2008

Waterville Gas Co. plans move to Farnsworth Road site

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

After 120 years on North River Road, Waterville Gas Co. is planning to move.

The small, family-owned utility, which prides itself on down-home, personalized service, will build offices at 726 Farnsworth Rd.

The company has hired the Buehrer Group, a Maumee architectural firm, to design a 5,000-square-foot building designed to be environmentally friendly and convenient to customers.

"This has been our only home for 120 years, but it's time for a change. We'll actually be more centrally located than we are now," President Rob Black said. "The new building will be less than a mile from our old offices."

He anticipates breaking ground in late spring and moving in late winter. He declined to reveal the cost of the project.

The new building will feature a drive-by payment box for the 10 to 15 percent of customers who still pay their gas bill the old-fashioned way, by stopping by in person. Now, they have to park out front and enter the building.

Before it could proceed with its plan, Waterville Gas needed permission from the village to have 14 parking spaces instead of the 34 required by the zoning code. Last month, the board of zoning appeals recommended that council approve the request.

The approval was needed for the utility to build a headquarters that would meet the standards necessary for certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is conferred by the United States Green Building Council. A smaller parking lot will mean more green space and less runoff of rainwater, said Ed Glowacki, the project's architect.

Waterville Gas' current building dates to 1818, Mr. Black said. It became the company's offices in 1880, when Robert G. Stitt, his great-grandfather, founded the firm.

Mr. Stitt was a Canadian who entered the oil business in Ohio in 1876. Oil was Mr. Stitt's only business until 1888, when he incorporated his company, which was known for most of its history as Waterville Gas and Oil.

The firm, with 10 employees, remains in family hands. Mr. Black's brother, James, is corporate secretary, and his son, Todd, treasurer.

The company building in downtown Waterville is identified simply as "Gas Co." The firm strives to deliver better service than a large public utility. A customer with a problem or complaint can take it up directly with Mr. Black, who has an master's of business administration degree from the University of Michigan and once worked as an analyst for El Paso Corp., the owner of North America's largest natural gas pipeline system. At Waterville Gas, Mr. Black used to read and install meters and make gas line taps.

Waterville Gas supplies customers in Waterville and Perrysburg, and in Middleton, Monclova, Perrysburg, and Waterville townships through its 140-mile pipeline network. Most of the 5,600 accounts are residential, but there are significant commercial customers too, such as Perrysburg's Levis Commons.

The historic building at 11 North River Rd. has received a lot of tender loving care over the years, and is in good condition. But the downstairs is a warren of small rooms, and the structure, at 2,400 square feet, is too small. Mr. Black said there are no plans to sell the building.

"What we'll do with it, we don't know," he explained. "It's a wonderful, historic property, and it holds a lot of sentimental value for us. But it's just not practical in the 21st century."

Contact Carl Ryan at: carlryan@theblade.com,

or 419-206-0356.



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