Exploring the Complexities of Designing and Building a New Wastewater Treatment Facility

Exploring the Complexities of Designing and Building a New Wastewater Treatment Facility

A wastewater treatment facility typically operates for 20 to 30 years before major upgrades are required. As a result, many of the facilities built in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s are due (or well overdue) for replacement. When it comes time to build new or upgrade, it is important to get it right the first time. To succeed, engineers and operators must break down barriers and collaborate during design, construction, and the initial years of facility operations.

I recently published an article on this subject, "Getting it right—opening lines of communication between engineering and operations when designing and building a wastewater treatment facility" in the Fall 2015 issue of the NEWEA Journal, which I co-authored with Michael Harris, Superintendent of the Ellsworth, Maine Wastewater Treatment Facility. The full article, including the complete fall edition of the Journal, can be read for free online (PDF). 

The article details how Woodard & Curran worked with staff from the City of Ellsworth to plan, design, and oversee the construction of a new wastewater treatment facility and its associated systems to replace the City’s outdated treatment plant, which was built in 1978 and was operating at its maximum licensed capacity. 

Designing and building a new or upgraded treatment facility is complex. Operators and engineers are often limited in their ability to implement upgrades based on the footprint of the existing facilities. This was the case in Ellsworth. However, based on dialog between the planners, operators, and engineers involved in this project, we were collectively able to think outside the box and develop a plan to design and build a new facility at an off-site location that was both economical and state-of-the-art.

Mike and his team brought a wealth of knowledge and perspective to the project. (You can also read more about Mike, who has been the superintendent in Ellsworth since January of 2005, in a profile in the Journal on page 27.) Operators understand the space, mechanical requirements, and actions required for day-to-day work at a wastewater treatment facility and can help the engineering design team account for practical considerations. For example, the initial preliminary design for the operations building at the new Ellsworth facility had the Superintendent’s office next to the Chief Operator’s office. However, Mike pointed out that it made more sense to expand the Chief Operator’s office and move it next to the lab, where he spends most of his time. Making changes to the size and location of a room required corresponding changes in structural and architectural design, as well as lighting, HVAC, and electrical, but since these changes were done at the initial stages, it was easy to make modifications.  

Building a new wastewater treatment facility at a new location has allowed Ellsworth to address the lack of adequate sanitary wastewater infrastructure that challenged goals for the City’s expansion of the local economy. In addition, the cost-saving features of the new facility demonstrate the value of the decision to invest in sustainable utility service. Woodard & Curran and the City of Ellsworth received the 2014 Grand Conceptor Engineering Excellence Award from the Maine chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies for their collaborative efforts to build the new facility. (You can also read more about this project on a previously published post on our blog.)

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Municipal Wastewater

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