Inside And Out

The operations team in Helena, Mont., worked hard for years to enhance the appearance of plant buildings and equipment and the surrounding property.
Inside And Out
The team at the Helena Wastewater Treatment Facility includes, front row, from left, Don Clark, water/wastewater superintendent; Mark Fitzwater, plant supervisor; Lynora Rogstad, water/wastewater administrative coordinator; and Jeff Brown, plant operator. Back row, Doug Hovley and Pat Curry, biosolids operators; Bob Cline, plant operator; Darrell Langford, lab technician/operator; Tim Patera, maintenance/operator; and Raymond Chapman, plant operator. Not pictured: Fred Irby, plant operator.

Pride and teamwork among the operators and staff have led to total restoration of the 5.4 mgd (design) wastewater treatment facility in Helena, Mont.

“We have done so much to improve the appearance of the plant since 2000 that it’s hard to list it all,” says Mark Fitzwater, plant supervisor. The work includes sprucing up of buildings inside and out, extensive plantings of trees and shrubs on the plant property, and building an attractive sign to impress visitors and passers-by.

Fix up, clean up

It started inside, where almost every pump, compressor, valve and instrument was replaced or repaired. Controls were upgraded first to a DCS system and then to SCADA. Outside, plant team members contracted to have the buildings painted in a subdued tan with brown trim that blends in with the surroundings. It replaced a bright blue that was flaking and stood out as a “loud” color. They patched or replaced aging roofs. They replaced rusted chain link and dilapidated wooden fences with a modern security fence. They resurfaced dirt roads with asphalt and added curbing.

“Everyone who worked here was in on the improvements,” says Fitzwater, who started his career at the plant as an operator some 21 years ago. “Operators Darrell Langford, Tim Patera, Bob Cline and Pat Curry all pitched in with their ideas and leadership to improve the plant, as did Doug Hovley, Jeff Brown, Ray Chapman and Fred Irby, who came along later. Bryan Lewis and Carol Ham, who are now retired, also contributed.”

Don Clark, who replaced Leonard Willet as plant superintendent, spearheaded the beautification while in his previous position of plant supervisor. “Ideas were coming in weekly from everyone,” says Fitzwater. “We discussed them as a group and usually improved upon them. Once we all felt we had the best solution, Don, with a lot of help from Lynora Rogstad, water/wastewater coordinator, and Phil Hauck, assistant public works director, found the money, assigned a few people to the project and away we went.”

One example of teamwork was fixing a problem with buried nonpotable water pipes that fed the sprinkler system. The pipes had a habit of bursting because of pressure spikes. After reviewing several possible solutions, the operators chose to install variable-speed drives on the pumps and add two relief valves to help maintain a constant pressure.

Clark received approval for the project and received funding through a grant for energy savings from Northwest Energy, the local electric utility. “This was a problem we had for many years, so no single individual discovered it,” says Fitzwater. “We all had a say in the fix.”

Changing of the guard

The renewal effort began when a previous supervisor retired and at the same time the city hired John Rundquist as public works director (he has since retired, replaced by Randall Camp) and Tim Burton as city manager (he has been replaced by Ron Alles). Over the preceding years, capital investment funds had accumulated. Clark, Fitzwater and the entire operating staff appealed to the new management, and they made the funds available for operators to implement their plans.

“Morale improved one hundred percent,” says Fitzwater. Any operator who identified an area for improvement was put in charge of that project. Outside contractors helped on only a few jobs, like pouring the concrete curbs and installing the variable-speed drives. The operators and staff did most of the work, spread over three years.

Tim Patera, operator, directed the planting and watering of more than 500 trees and bushes on the 20-acre plant site. There are 100 each of Austrian pine, blue spruce, burning bushes, snow bushes and potentilla, plus Virginia creepers, kerr, rosa rugosa, mock orange and other varieties planted around the buildings and along the property boundaries.

As part of the refurbishing, operators took advantage of energy conservation incentives offered by Northwest Energy. An array of two solar panels generates 5,000 watts to fulfill the electrical needs of a refurbished building containing office space, a conference room and storage area.

Attractive welcome

To make a better impression on visitors, the team took down an old entrance sign, repaired and repainted it, and moved it to a seldom-used access road gateway, making way for a new and more elaborate sign.

Fitzwater painted the new oval-shaped sign, which displays the crest of Helena (Montana’s capital) and a landmark fire tower with the inscription, “Guardian of the Gulch.” The sign is mounted between two four-by-four wooden posts, covered with a gabled roof and mounted on a 9-foot-long, 4-foot-wide, 3-foot-high base made of brick, symbolic of the masonry construction used in Helena in the late 19th century to resist fires that plagued the area at the time.

Fitzwater and the team look back on all their work with great pride. “We all knew what it would take to make it right, but none of it would have happened without city support,” he says. “And the good part is that we’re no longer the eyesore people used to think we were.”   


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