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Outpost Building a Reality

Updated: May 3

Photo of Jeff Zettel operating the drone which hovers over his right shoulder.
Jeff Zettel, NIPCO's drone pilot, captures images from new perspectives.

Jeff Zettel, NIPCO Engineering Technician, has been tasked with taking progress photos of the NIPCO Outpost Building Construction site for over two years. As he loaded up his drone and prepared for his April 24th site visit, Zettel was excited to be a part of photo-archiving the project and to watch its progression through the eye of drone technology. His images will visually represent the project’s progression from an undeveloped lot to a modern service facility that will serve the needs of four NIPCO outpost crew. The final walkthrough took place this week, and Zettel’s role in this project will draw to a close.

Armed with a rubric of numerous qualifications for the would-be site, NIPCO staff worked closely with the NIPCO membership to ensure the location would check all required boxes. Priority consideration was given to sites that allowed for improved crew response times to transmission infrastructure serving communities in southern Woodbury and Ida counties and Monona, Crawford, Carroll, Harrison, Shelby, Pottawattamie, and Cass counties. With over thirty sites in the consideration process, NIPCO and the membership collaborated to reduce the field of candidates to three finalists. On June 28th, 2021, the NIPCO Board of Directors approved the purchase of a site located three-quarters of a mile east of the intersection of Highway 59 and State Highway 141, just seven miles south of Denison. NIPCO Class A Member Western Iowa Power Cooperative (WIPCO) provides electric service to this site.

Construction on the new Outpost building began on July 10th, 2023, marking a significant milestone in the project’s three-year journey. This project aimed to consolidate two existing yet outdated outpost facilities and their respective crews into a singular space with modern amenities and updated safety features that could house larger equipment and provide easier access to materials. In the past, NIPCO’s operational needs in the southern half of our service footprint were managed by two 2-men outpost crews, each headquartered in separate locations in Onawa and Harlan. These outposts served as the central hubs for the teams who resided in and operated out of these communities. Initially, these buildings met the requirements, offering amenities to facilitate efficient operations. Over time, the Onawa and Harlan facilities have become inadequate since the equipment needed to maintain the system has become too large to fit inside. Further, the facilities have reached a point of requiring major and costly upgrades.

The first time NIPCO Operations and Engineering staff proposed their plan to the NIPCO Board of Directors for an Outpost facility to be built in a central location within NIPCO’s southern territory was in February of 2020. In the months to follow, the Covid-19 global pandemic took its toll on available resources, and building costs skyrocketed. It prompted NIPCO directors to tap the brakes on the project, signaling NIPCO staff to refocus their efforts to optimize the overall design and re-consider construction elements. “The answer wasn’t ‘Don’t do the project’,” said NIPCO Board President Louis Reed, “It was, ‘Let’s take it back to the drawing board and find some cost-savings and ways to make it more efficient and wait until the time is right to pick it back up.”

Drone photo from above of the front of the Outpost building as it nears its final stage.
Taking on its final shape, the NIPCO Outpost Building near Denison, Iowa, is ready for the final walk-through (photo taken April, 2024).

In March of 2023, a final proposal to the NIPCO Board garnered approval with a comprehensive construction estimate of $3.5 million. The all-steel framed, 3-bay outpost building structure features 6,840 square feet of space and will be the reporting facility for four outpost crew members. The shop space is large enough to house two line trucks, one basket and one digger derrick truck, a dump truck, a crew trailer, a four-wheeler, and a Bobcat. The building will also feature a crew meeting room, central air and heat, LED lighting, a small kitchenette, and restrooms that also double as a storm shelter.

Long-shot photo of several people standig and looking at the garage bay of the Outpost Building.
Several NIPCO staff, including all four retired Outpost crew members, conducted a walk-through of the Outpost Building on May 2, 2024.

Jayme Huber, who serves as NIPCO’s Vice President of Engineering and Operations, is pleased with the final result and feels it was well worth the wait. “This facility will greatly enhance the working environment for our outpost crews,” Huber remarked. “It represents a significant upgrade from our previous setup, offering improved equipment storage and enhanced access to necessary materials, enabling our teams to serve our members more efficiently.” The new Outpost building is essential to NIPCO’s ongoing commitment to serve the members within the southern half of our electric transmission system. NIPCO will communicate any plans for a scheduled Open House event with its members.

A photo of eight NIPCO linemen posing by a ladder.
NIPCO Outpost Crew Members (left to right: Jordan Newcomb, Grant Oliver, Jacob Jochims, and Lucas Else) are all smiles at the new Outpost facility, while all four retired NIPCO Outpost Crew Members (left to right: Gerry Freml, Terry Madsen, Bruce Christensen, and Brad Stevens) are proud to have built a strong tradition of service in the south-end of NIPCO's transmission system.

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