DOVER — Chesapeake Utilities Corp.’s history with Dover goes back to 1859, when it began illuminating the city with its gas lights.
While those gas lights have long since been replaced, the company’s relationship with the state capital promises to continue for many years to come after it broke ground Monday on a $26 million business campus just south of the Blue Hen Corporate Center.
The new facility will sit on more than 20 acres, occupy more than 100,000-square feet and will house more than 250 employees, many of whom attended Monday’s event wearing purple T-shirts in support of the company’s Code Purple initiative.
The sprawling business campus will be home to the Eastern Shore Natural Gas Co., Chesapeake Utilities, Chesapeake Utilities Corp. administrative staff and a compressed natural gas filling station.
“We’re very proud to get this initiative started,” said Michael P. McMasters, president and CEO of Chesapeake Utilities. “We’re consolidating our two natural gas operations that are here in Dover — Eastern Shore Natural Gas and our Chesapeake Utilities of Delmarva natural gas operation.
“This emphasizes the commitment that Chesapeake has to Dover and to the state of Delaware. This is where Chesapeake was formed. We’ve been in Dover over 150 years going back to the gas light days, so it’s been quite some time and we’re proud to be here.”
The leadership team of Mr. McMasters and Steve C. Thompson, senior vice president of Chesapeake Utilities, welcomed U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and other dignitaries to help celebrate the milestone event.
“We currently have employees that are in four different locations in Dover and we’re finally bringing them back together under one roof like we used to have way back when [we were located] on Queen Street,” Mr. Thompson said. “This will be a great new facility for us. It’s a nice investment in the community.
“We’re hoping we’ll be able to finish by the end of next year but my guess is it may likely be the first quarter of 2018.”
Sen. Carper applauded the company for its investment in Delaware and its commitment to cleaner energy.
“We used to get our electricity for this country almost exclusively from coal and nuclear,” he said. “Now we’re getting a lot more from natural gas, we’re getting a lot more from propane and we’re getting a lot more from renewables.
“The idea is more energy, cleaner energy and hopefully in a more cost-effective way. [Chesapeake does] a great job in helping to provide our energy needs.”
Among the most innovative things about the new business campus is that it will be the future site of a compressed natural gas fueling station.
Transportation is just another factor in the growth of the company.
The CNG station will be part of the company’s environmental initiative to supply clean burning natural to fuel vehicles, as well as the state’s efforts to increase the number of vehicles that use alternative fuels.
Chesapeake also has operations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. In fact, it’s the second largest gas utility in Florida when measured in terms of how much gas it delivers to customers.
That kind of growth is the kind of thing that led to the construction of an expanded facility.
“The growth that we’ve experienced over the years has been incredible and it’s what’s driving the need for this new building,” Mr. McMasters said. “That growth is really the result of the hard work that our employees do every day. It’s critically important that we operate a safe system and that we operate a reliable system.”
Mayor Christiansen is sure that Chesapeake Utilities can be counted on for that.
He thought back to the evening of March 11, 1983. He was fixing his children a warm meal that night when all of a sudden he heard a loud explosion and all of the lights in Dover went out.
“I quickly gathered up my three children and handed them to my neighbor and responded to the fire house and was on the first piece of fire equipment going to the Chesapeake Utilities building where we saw a ball of fire like I’d never seen before,” Mayor Christiansen said. “It had a roar louder than a C-5.
“We worked with the Chesapeake Utility workers to try to shut down the gas at that particular location and could not. But those people were just as brave as we were because we had turnout gear on and they did not.”
He noted that the Chesapeake Utility workers’ dedication continued long after the fire was finally extinguished and the power restored.
“The heroism and dedication of the Chesapeake employees went on for several days after that because they went house-to-house to make sure everybody’s gas water heaters and their furnaces came back on safely,” said Mayor Christiansen. “So I knew they were a class act and I was glad that they were in Dover.”
With the construction of Chesapeake Utilities’ new business campus, the company is sure to be a part of the city for many years to come.
Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.