Highland News Leader

Highland to start final build out on fiber optic system

Joe Hulliung, left, and Clayton Moore, right, service technicians with Highland Communication Services, stand in near a company truck. HCS was recently ranked 5th out of the 40 community owned fiber to premises enterprises in the nation in for providing the most savings in basic broadband services as compared to its private competitors, in a study from Harvard University that was published in January.
Joe Hulliung, left, and Clayton Moore, right, service technicians with Highland Communication Services, stand in near a company truck. HCS was recently ranked 5th out of the 40 community owned fiber to premises enterprises in the nation in for providing the most savings in basic broadband services as compared to its private competitors, in a study from Harvard University that was published in January. mbraa@bnd.com

A lot more Highland citizens may be able to utilize Highland Communication Services by the end of this year.

During the Highland City Council meeting on Jan. 16, the council approved a $53,000 engineering agreement with Vantage Point Solutions Inc. to preform services needed to plan the final build-out of the city’s fiber-to-the-premises project.

Director of Power and Light Dan Cook said this was initiated because HCS has reached a 53 percent penetration level in all of its eligible areas. This means the city has basically attained all the customers HCS expects to gain in the areas that have been built out.

“That is an awesome number, since people have choices of Charter, Frontier, Wisper, DirectTV, Dish Network, and of course, no service at all,” Cook said.

Cook said the engineering firm will develop layout designs to expand services to the city limits. The services are not in the current budget, according to Cook, but are necessary, as the city cannot contract the project without the plans. The firm has provided “high quality” services to HCS for several years and is familiar with the system, which makes them the best choice for the task, according to Cook.

“We’re going to be interacting with them on a daily basis on the development of this,” Cook said.

The project will bring access to the north, west and northwest sides of town, giving 763 additional potential customers access to HCS, according to Cook.

“If we even gain a 40 percent penetration in that new area, we would gain an additional 300 customers,” Cook said.

City Manager Mark Latham said this is a project that has been almost a decade in the making.

“There are still people that are in favor of this that don’t have service,” Latham said.

But while he said some people are without services, HCS is doing better than what was originally anticipated. Director of Technology and Innovation Angela Imming said that it was projected HCS would only be at a 36 percent penetration level currently.

Latham said that after the plan is created, the city hopes to go out for bids in mid-March, with the possibility of the project to start in May. The hope is to finish the build-out by the end of the year.

Latham said after the build-out the next leg will be getting Highland “lit up,” the phrase they use to illustrate someone hooking up with the service. Latham estimated, once the build out is completed, there will be an immediate 25 percent penetration level. Latham also said that the city expected to reach a 53 percent penetration level over a three-year period, as users get away from competitor contracts.

“We just have to figure that out, making sure people will get hooked up in a reasonable manner,” Latham said.

As for expanding HCS’s reach to outside of the city, Latham said the cost would be fairly expensive, but he said he does not consider expanding a “dead issue.”

“We just need to take it one step at a time here,” Latham said.

Other business

Water main presentation

A representative from Hurst-Rosche Inc. gave a presentation on an updated water rate study. The study was conducted to help the city understand how much it would have to raise its water rates to rehabilitate its water distribution system.

National School Choice Week

Mayor Joe Michaelis read a proclamation naming Jan. 21-27 National School Choice Week in Highland.

Utility assistance discussion

The council had a discussion regarding whether or not to continue providing reimbursement to Helvetia and Saline townships for providing utility assistance.

After the discussion, the council decided to terminate the program for the townships.

Fun run request approved

The council approved a request from the Highland Community Schools Parent-Teacher Organization to hold a timed Bunny 5K Fun Run and walk on April 7.

The run is a loop through the city beginning at the Highland Primary School at 8:30 a.m., the walk will begin a  1/2 hour later.

The hours for the entire event will be 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. The organization requested no parking signs to be placed along the route, police personnel for traffic management at major intersections and electric use for the race clock, as the race will be timed this year.

Fair/races request approved

The council approved the dates for 2018 Highland Speedway schedule on request from the Madison County Fair Association. The first night of racing will be on March 17, according to the schedule, but dates are subject to change.

Engineering agreement approved

The council approved a $98,660 construction engineering agreement with Oates Associates Inc. for a shared-use path connector on Illinois 160.

This trial will connect the roundabout at U.S. 40 to the entrance of HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland, where it will connect an existing trail on the east side of Illinois 160, according to Director of Parks and Recreation Mark Rosen.

Rosen said the construction costs are slightly elevated due to additional engineering that will be needed for installing a bridge. The total project estimate is $380,000. Rosen said the city has been approved for a Transportation Improvement Grant for $239,500.

Apex agreement amended

The council also approved amending an ordinance which allows an economic development incentive for Apex Holdings LLC and Apex Physical Therapy LLC, which is renovating the old Tri-onics building on the west side of town.

Apex is renovating the 26,604-square-foot building, located at 2491 Industrial Drive, off of U.S. 40. The $1.7 million project will create a new Apex facility that is expected to retain 33 jobs and create about 58 jobs over the next five years.

The council approved the ordinance last year on April 5. The economic development incentive has two terms: employment incentive and abatement of electrical rates. The city will pay the developer up to $102,500, subject to 10 percent withholding, for the retained jobs, and $342,500, subject to 10 to 25 percent withholding, for the new employees. However, the employees have to be connected to the new Highland Apex administrative facility, and the employees must be retained for three years, either working full time or equivalent to full time.

The ordinance states that city will also provide an abatement for electrical rates for the new facility for three years. For the first year, the electrical rate will be discounted by 75 percent, 50 percent the second year, and 25 percent for the third.

However, Apex has not been able to meet its deadlines related to job retention and job creation because of closing and construction delays, which were said to be “outside of the developer’s control.” Because of this, the council approved an amendment to the ordinance that will allow for an additional six months to achieve the deadlines.

Agreement approved

The council approved a contract renewal between HCS and WGNA to carry WGN. The contract includes the right for HCS to retransmit The CW and Fox, according to Imming.

Retransmission agreement

The council approved renewing a contract with Tegna so HCS can carry KSDK Channel 5 from St. Louis, which is the service’s local NBC programming. As part of the agreement, HCS is required to carry Justice TV and Bounce as a condition for carrying KSDK.

Bid awarded

The council a approved the purchase of three 34.5 kilovolt breakers for the city’s Westside substation for $83,577 from Myers Controlled Power LLC of North Canton, Ohio.

Cook said the Westside substation is aging, and with that many of the components are in need of replacement to ensure reliability and the reliability of the overall system. Cook said in the near future maintenance on the 138KV line will need to be preformed. To do this, power will need to be taken from the 34.5KV backup line. The breakers play an important role in the 34.5KV backup feed, so the replacement needs to be facilitated, according to Cook.

Myers Controlled Power was the low bidder, and Cook said the breakers are a budgeted expense.

Megan Braa: 618-654-2366, ext 23, @MeganBraa_