The original conference table started out big and round, and as the energy company grew, the table was expanded to an oval shape.

Now, 40 years later, the new one replacing it is a user-friendly U-shape, with sockets and USB ports cut into the top to accommodate everything electronic, from iPads to laptops.

“No more pencils,” said Dennis Braun, owner of Hays Planing Mill, who along with his son, Dustin, is building the replacement 14- by 10-foot walnut conference table for Midwest Energy’s board room.

“The old one is from the analog era,” explained Mike Morley, director of corporate communications and government affairs at Midwest Energy.

“Everything then was done on paper and you would spread things out, blueprints or a map or something. Today there’s no need for that,” Morley said. “Everything is done digitally, you put it up on a screen. All of our board members have iPads, so instead of printing out reams of paper for every board meeting, they get a PDF file and they follow along on there.”

The walnut and walnut veneer table Braun is building is the tail end of what has been a three-year updating of Midwest Energy’s 33-year-old headquarters at 1330 Canterbury Drive. Designed in the 1980s by local architects, the big brick building was novel then and now for its state-of-the-art geothermal heating, open spaces and bright, two-story atrium in the center. 

“The last thing we want to do is change buildings,” Morley said. “We want to make the most efficient use of the space that we have. We’ve got this great building and it’s in great shape, and we want to see it be used as long as possible for decades to come.”

The 42,000-square-foot building is the home office for 85 of Midwest Energy’s 285 employees. As a member of the 14-state Southwest Power Pool, customer-owned Midwest Energy Inc. provides electricity and gas service to a 40-county area in central and western Kansas, including Hays and Ellis County.

Midwest Energy moved into its newly constructed building in 1986, and much of it has stayed the same until three years ago. 

“It was like a time capsule,” Morley said. “The carpet was the original, the ceiling tiles were the original, the wallpaper is the original, the cubicle dividers were the original … We thought, ‘let’s at least update.’ ”

Finding more space in the same footprint has required rearranging and moving departments, as well as replacing a massive central filing room, where interns turned rows and rows of file cabinets into scanned documents now stored as digital data.

The $350,000 update began in earnest in 2017.

“We always try to bid the work with local contractors, and if we can’t find local then we try to find regional contractors,” Morley said.

Ceiling tile was replaced by MSC Ceiling, of Salina, and the carpet was replaced by Centennial Carpets Inc., of Hays. Fluorescent lights are being replaced with LEDs by Midwest Energy. CT Electric, Tri-Central Office Supply Inc. and Brackney Construction & Supply Inc., all of Hays, transformed existing space into offices for the IT and Finance departments, as well as a new conference and training room.

On Wednesday, the old carpet in the board room had been torn out and new carpet was being laid.

At Hays Planing Mill, Dennis and Dustin had the garage door of the shop at 1013 Elm St. open and were putting the finishing touches on the top of the new conference table.

They will deliver the base Friday. Midwest Energy crews will install electrical cords and connections into the base. The top is scheduled for delivery on Monday.

Both the old and the new table each seat 14 people comfortably, or 20 if you squeeze them in a little. The size comes in handy for departments that use the board room for training and meetings.

Hays Planing Mill made the first conference table, too, more than 40 years ago, a perfectly round table 10 feet across. Braun, who started at the mill at 19 when it was owned by Wilber Pfeifer, helped build that one also.

The customer was Central Kansas Electric Cooperative, which had its headquarters in Great Bend. In 1981, CKEC purchased the much larger investor-owned Central Kansas Power and the new company became Midwest Energy.

When Midwest Energy moved to Hays a few years later, the 10- by 10-foot conference table came too. Later, a leaf was added.

“It was too small then, so they brought it back and we cut it in half and added six feet of straight walnut,” said Braun, who bought the mill in 1993.

He started work on the new table about a month ago, beginning with plans drawn by the shop’s computer designer, Crystal Hoffert. She and Braun took Midwest’s main idea and ran with it.

“They decided they wanted a U-shaped table so it would be more effective for their meetings,” Hoffert said. A presenter at the front of the room can walk up to anyone seated at the table, and unlike the round table, no one will have their back to the presenter. 

Along the sides where people will sit, the tabletop arcs outward along the edge, Braun explained. “They wanted it arced so you’re not sitting in a line and looking around somebody to see the next person.”

The base is six pieces of walnut veneer, and the top is four pieces of walnut veneer, edged with solid walnut, and with solid walnut inlaid at each corner.

“It’s unusual to have something this size, it’s not everyday you build a conference table,” said Braun. “It’s very unusual, especially this shape.”

The top took the most work, he said, partly because so many pieces had to be glued together.

“It’s very delicate work,” Braun said. “If you sand too much, you sand through the veneer. It’s all pretty touchy.”

The old table, estimated to weigh 800 to 1,000 pounds, is now in a storage area at Midwest Energy.

“We’re still looking for an owner,” said facilities manager Pat Schumacher on Wednesday.

Midwest Energy has offered the table to several nonprofits, but the huge size has been a barrier.

“It’s as big as two king-sized beds,” added Morley. “You’d fill up a two-car garage with this. …You know anyone who wants a supersize table?”