“An old federal post office building ... is not the most accommodating for the kind of work we’re doing here,” CPW manager Charlie Cuzzell said. “We’ve made it work for 33 years, and the commissioners said, ‘Look, we really need to do something with the new technology that’s coming on board.’”
So, two blocks away, a new building is being constructed on a 2.6-acre North Cedar Street property between West First North Street and West Second North Street. The two-story, 15,000-square-foot facility, scheduled to open this fall, was designed with the historic architecture of downtown Summerville in mind.
“What we wanted to do is kind of pick up on that and not build a modern glass building in downtown Summerville because it would feel out of place,” Cuzzell said. “So, what we did was, we designed the building primarily out of brick.”
Over 100,000 bricks are being used to build the exterior. CPW feared, though, that a building of brick on all four sides “was almost too massive,” Cuzzell said. To overcome this, large glass windows cover the far side of the building, making it more modern and letting natural light into the lobby.
“What we tried to do is make the building fit, but at the same time make it feel like we’re looking to the future as well. Because our plan is to be in that building probably 50, 60, 70 years. 100 years if necessary,” Cuzzell said. “The building is very substantial, so it could easily last that long.”
Other features of the new building include a drive-through window and a secure drop box for payments, both of which Cuzzell said customers had been requesting. The site will also include a public park with places to sit and a number of oak trees that were preserved during construction. Cuzzell said the CPW hopes the inclusion of a public park, the landscaping work on the property and the preservation of the oak trees will help them to be designated a bird-friendly business by the South Carolina Audubon Society.
“We hope when it’s finished, it’s going to really be a good example (for) any private developer that comes in,” Cuzzell said. “(The town can tell the developer) we want you to do what the public did. They made the investment, we want you all to do the same thing.”
The site also has an unused piece of land that CPW didn’t end up needing for the new building. Cuzzell said the commissioners are planning to sell that piece to a commercial developer at some point in the future.
The project, which is costing a total of $6 million between buying the land and furnishing the new building, is completely funded — Cuzzell said CPW had been saving money for a new building for years.
“It’s not going to raise anybody’s water bill, not going to raise anybody’s sewer bill,” he said, adding that the commissioners wanted to make sure the project was fully funded when CPW entered the construction contract, to continue the utility’s record of having no outstanding debt.
Challenges to construction
The project has been underway since 2014, but construction didn’t begin until last summer, in part as a result of normal preparations of finding an architect and bidding for a contractor — but also because of four historic houses that were on the property on which CPW wanted to build.
Cuzzell said CPW didn’t want to tear down the homes on their site, so the utility gave them away to four people, who relocated the houses to South Gum Street, North Palmetto Street, North Pine Street and West Third North Street, respectively.
Another challenge for CPW in preparing the site was improving [the intersection](https://goo.gl/maps/Tj6iJ3Ztbet) of North Cedar and West Second North streets, “because we hated to build a nice new building and you couldn’t see it for all the wires that were there,” Cuzzell said.
CPW worked with the town of Summerville and S.C. Electric & Gas Co. to put up new signal lights and move the power, telephone and cable utilities underground. CPW also had to get permission from Five Loaves Cafe, across the street from the new building, to relocate some fuses and switches from telephone poles to underground on the Five Loaves property.
Stephen Harmon, managing partner for Five Loaves Cafe, said that, other than that, the construction hasn’t been too invasive for the business.
“There’s a couple weeks when it would be a little bit noisy, but nothing too obtrusive at all,” he said. “It’s been flying by.”
Harmon said he is looking forward to the prospect of having a well-manicured property across the street.
“They didn’t get rid of all the live oaks, and all the landscaping that they’re trying to tie in with it, I think it’s actually going to be a really nice addition to have,” he said.
Summerville Town Administrator Colin Martin concurred, saying that from the town’s perspective, it’s a great use of the property.
“We’re looking forward to the new building’s completion,” he said. “It looks very attractive in the renderings.”
Cuzzell said he and the CPW staff are eager to work in the new building.
“Our operation has fit the (old) building, and we decided we wanted a building that fit our operation,” he said.
Departments will finally be grouped together, he said, and there’s going to be a functional breakroom instead of just cubbyholes for employees.
Cuzzell said he hopes construction will be done in late August or early September, allowing CPW to move into the building in September or October. The plan, he said, is to close down the old building on a Friday and open at the new building the following Monday, meaning no interruptions for customers.
Harmon said he is hoping that having the CPW across the street will increase the restaurant’s to-go business, especially around lunchtime.
“I know a lot of people are going to realize they can come over here and pay their bill, and maybe come on over and grab a quick lunch to go,” he said. “Just knock out a couple things at the same time.”
Future of the old building
Cuzzell said that the commissioners aren’t in any rush to get rid of the old post office building but that they’ve decided definitively to sell it.
“We do water and wastewater,” he said. “We don’t do property management.”
Cuzzell said inquiries have come in from all sorts of people about the old building, including commercial real estate developers, community groups and the town of Summerville. Right now, he said, the plan is to get the building appraised to determine the value, which will be more than the $150,000 CPW paid for it in 1984. The building will then be offered to public agencies, and if none wants it, the post office building will go on sale to the public.
Cuzzell said the profit from selling the old post office, as well as money from the sale of the unused parcel, could help CPW recover up to 30% of the $6 million investment.
Martin said Summerville is considering the possibility of putting a library there or moving the Summerville Dorchester Museum to the site. There has also been talk about putting a restaurant in the location — an idea that Cuzzell jokingly endorsed, hoping that a restaurant could open on the ground floor and a bar called Fallout Shelter could open in the basement, harking back to the basement’s use in the 1950s.
Martin said the foot traffic on West Richardson Avenue makes it a great location for any business, public or private.
“It’s a wonderful building,” he said. “It provides some good opportunities.”