OK – Your Turn!

A long-time operator has visions of a board game that would make learning about wastewater treatment fun for trainees and help engage public interest

Frank Eggleston grew up as a lover of board games, from Candyland, Sorry! and Chutes & Ladders to Monopoly, Scrabble and Life. Today, his tastes run toward more cerebral games like chess, Taboo, Scruples and Balderdash.

His dream is to create a board game for wastewater treatment operators — one in which players work their way around a game board by answering questions that pertain to a variety of scenarios and situations they might encounter at a typical treatment plant.

Eggleston has worked in the profession for 29 years, all at the Ithaca (N.Y.) Area Wastewater Treatment Facility, where he is now assistant chief operator. He is in the early stages of developing the game and is looking for ideas from his peers in the profession. He talked about the project in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO:

Tell us about your background in the wastewater treatment profession.

Eggleston:

After I got out of the Navy in 1980, I was looking for a job, and my experience as a machinist mate gave me the qualifications for the position of operator trainee here in Ithaca. I started in 1981 at the old treatment plant. I stayed until the new plant was completed in 1987, and that’s when things start to get interesting.

I took training to become certified as a higher-level operator. I ran our belt filter press for eight years and got a letter of commendation from the chief operator for having high throughput, good-quality cake and good efficiency. Then I worked in the lab for about eight years. In between, I served as an operator out in the plant. I became assistant chief operator three years ago.

We have a conventional activated sludge plant, and on our tail end we recently added a tertiary system called Actiflo (Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies) for phosphorus removal. We’re staffed by about 15 people. Our daily flow is about 6 mgd. It’s seasonal because we have Cornell University here. During the school year, we’re busier, and we have a higher BOD loading then.

TPO:

How did you get the idea for a game about wastewater treatment?

Eggleston:

I’ve always been kind of creative, and I’ve always had an interest in board games. I’m going to retire in three years, and I thought it would be nice to leave the industry with something, to leave a legacy by giving back something to help the industry. It seemed natural to try and create a board game.

I’ve had ideas for games to develop on a commercial level in my personal life, but this is something I think of as being just for the industry. I can’t imagine the average person going out and buying it. I don’t see someone like Hasbro taking this on as something to sell, but as a tool for the industry, I think it could be fantastic.

TPO:

Have you seen anything at all similar to this in the industry?

Eggleston:

In New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation teaches a troubleshooting class at Old Forge, and as part of it they play Sludge Jeopardy. It’s played along the same lines as the actual Jeopardy game on TV.

In the class, you’ll be sitting in groups of four or five around tables, and each group has a little buzzer. They present the answers on a screen in PowerPoint. You hit the buzzer and answer with a question.

There are various topics, like primary treatment, sedimentation and solids handling. All the questions are related to things you learned at some point during the week-long course. They play the game on the Friday when you’re about to leave. At the end, the winners get a Golden Plunger award. It makes the course more fun. You’re not just learning and taking a test. You get some enjoyment out of it.

TPO:

What needs would you see a board game fulfilling for the industry?

Eggleston:

I could see it serving a couple of purposes. You’d be able to use it in the industry for people coming out of technical schools, or for operators at the end of certification classes. They would take a basic operations class, and at end of the course they would play this board game.

I think it would also have value for public relations purposes. It could be played by members of tour groups who come to treatment plants. Or if a school was trying to promote environmental studies, this would give them a fun way to learn about wastewater treatment, by going around the board and seeing the process.

You would have to adapt the game to suit the players. For wastewater operators, you’d have more technical questions. For kids, you’d have easier questions. A lot of games are set up that way, with harder questions based on your age or your knowledge.

TPO:

How do you envision the game being structured?

Eggleston:

The game board would be designed and illustrated to show the basic systems and processes found at a conventional activated sludge plant: preliminary treatment, primary and secondary sedimentation, aeration, tertiary treatment, disinfection, anaerobic digestion, and solids removal.

You’d have a circular spinner like in the game of Life, but it would be shaped like a sludge rake. Players would proceed through each stage of the plant, starting with preliminary treatment. To pass through one stage and proceed to the next, they would have to become “certified” in order by answering multiple-choice questions about that treatment process.

Other players would be allowed to comment on their answers to be sure they were not just guessing. If by consensus the players determined that an answer was a wild guess, the player guessing would forfeit his turn and proceed to the laboratory, in the center of the board.

In the same way, if someone challenged an answer but turned out to be wrong, that person would go to the lab. The lab would be like the jail in Monopoly. On their next turn, they would have to answer an analytical question to go back to the beginning of the last process they were in.

There would also be Upset squares. Players landing on one of those would be presented with a scenario of a problematic situation that, if left unchanged, could lead to a violation of the plant permit. They would be given four choices of short-term solutions. Only the best answer would enable them to spin the rake again and move on.

TPO:

Where would you get the information to create these scenarios?

Eggleston:

It would be nice to get actual stories from regulatory agencies in different states, where they went into a plant and did troubleshooting. The agencies would surely have those cases on record. And individual plants have their experiences, too. Almost any plant has had strange things happen that at first they couldn’t figure out.

TPO:

What are you doing to get input from your peers in the industry to help you develop this game?

Eggleston:

I’ve been sending requests to industry groups like WEF and the New York Water Environment Federation. I sent a blurb to an online operator forum at www.waterandwastewater.com. I would love to be able to get a list of e-mails of wastewater treatment operators and send a message to them. In my free time, I’m searching for different avenues for getting the word out.

TPO:

What about funding? How would you expect to pay for the production of this game once you have it designed?

Eggleston:

I can come up with the basic design and layout for the board. After that, I know there must be companies out there that would see an idea like this and want to contribute in some way. There might be a way for those who did contribute to be recognized on the game board.

TPO:

What’s your timetable for bringing this project to completion?

Eggleston:

I’m starting a rough draft of the board and taking ideas from other people as they come in. My chief operator, Dan Ramer, has given me the OK to do this in my spare time. He’s a progressive thinker and has a fun attitude. He thought this was a good idea. It could take a year. It could take longer. Hopefully I finish it before I retire — that’s the goal.



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