A Citizens’ Committee Helps Architects And Engineers Design A Water Treatment Plant

A citizens’ committee helps architects and engineers develop an attractive design for a water treatment plant in a city park.
A Citizens’ Committee Helps Architects And Engineers Design A Water Treatment Plant
The new plant (shown in an artist rendering) is designed to be harmonious with a surrounding park and with the nearby downtown area.

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The City of Yankton’s 1929 water treatment plant had reached the end of its life. A new collector well and water treatment plant would cost $29 million — and would have to be built in a park along the Missouri River, between the downtown and a popular pedestrian bridge. What’s more, the project would cause water rates to increase by 40 percent.

In other words, the conditions were right for a controversy. That never happened, though, most likely because the leaders of Yankton, a city of 14,500 in southeastern South Dakota, reached out to the community to explain the need for the project.

A key part of that outreach was the creation of a citizens’ committee to help architects design a building exterior and landscape that would blend in with the park and harmonize with the atmosphere of the downtown. With the committee’s help, the city completed a design for the treatment plant and its surroundings last October.

The process illustrated the importance of not just informing citizens about major projects but of getting them involved and engaged at an early phase. Kyle Goodmanson, the city’s director of environmental services, oversees the city’s water and wastewater treatment plants, the wastewater collection system and the water distribution system. He talked about Yankton’s outreach process in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: Why was it necessary to build a new water treatment plant?

Goodmanson: We have two conventional water treatment plants — a 3 mgd built in 1929 and a 5 mgd facility built in 1972. We need to add capacity and the 1929 plant, the way it was designed, can’t be expanded. It has also become difficult to get parts for such an aging facility. So it was time for it to be decommissioned.

TPO: What will be built to replace that old plant?

Goodmanson: We will build a new collector well and a 5 mgd membrane treatment facility as an addition to the 1972 plant. Our source water contains a high level of iron, so we are looking at running it through sand filters first and then going to reverse osmosis to remove the oxidized iron. We’ve just started pilot testing; it appears we’ll be able to run water from the sand filters straight to RO, although the engineers are still working on that. We plan to start construction on the collector well this winter and on the treatment plant next fall, for completion in 2017.

TPO: What made the location of this new plant such a potentially sensitive issue?

Goodmanson: Both treatment plants are right down along the Missouri River, on the west side of Riverside Park, which is Yankton’s main park. The Meridian Bridge crosses the river right there — it’s a double-decker bridge built in the 1920s and has been turned into a pedestrian bridge connecting to nature trails on the Nebraska side.

The walkway to the bridge actually cuts right between our two water plants and is about two blocks away from and tied into our downtown. The river here is officially the Missouri National Recreational River, a unit of the National Park Service and Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Since the 1972 treatment facility is right in the middle of the park, the question was: Do we really want to build a new water plant there?

TPO: Why did the new plant have to be built in the park instead of somewhere else?

Goodmanson: As we designed the new plant, we explored the possibility of moving it outside of town somewhere. But the price tag to do that was almost $15 million more because we would have had to change our distribution system and add a new reservoir. So we stayed with the plan to add on to the 1972 plant, which was designed to be expanded. We have the funding in place through the state Revolving Loan Fund.

TPO: Why was it important to conduct extensive outreach on this project?

Goodmanson: When you have a community of about 14,000, people tend to be involved in government. When somebody says the city is going to spend $29 million, they want to know why. One thing we’ve experienced in Yankton is that a small number of people can make a great deal of noise. So we wanted people to be well-informed and educated about what we were doing and why we were doing it.

TPO: How did you begin with the public outreach?

Goodmanson: One of the first things we did was get our 20 or 30 biggest customers together and talk to them about the project. These were managers of our industries and our two hospitals, influential people in the community. We wanted to get them on board first. Then I went with Amy Nelson, our city manager, and Al Viereck, our finance officer, to meetings with our civic organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus and the Rotary. It all went very well. The City Commission approved the project with no issues. I think the reason was the amount of effort we put into getting people involved early, understanding the project and why it was needed.

TPO: How was the citizens’ committee created?

Goodmanson: The city manager decided to put the committee together because of the concerns with building the new plant in the park. The committee dealt with the look of the plant — the landscaping around it, the brick work, the shape. The aim was to arrive at a design that would tie into the park.

TPO: Who served on the committee?

Goodmanson: I served on the committee with our parks and recreation director Todd Nelson, our community development director Dave Mingo, three members of the City Commission and three members of the public. The National Park Service was also involved. They technically were not represented on the committee, but they came to all our meetings because they had jurisdiction over much of the permitting for the project. They were very helpful. They’re the kind of group that the more you involve them on the front end, the better off you are.

TPO: How were the public members solicited and selected?

Goodmanson: We put a notice in the newspaper inviting participation. People turned in applications, and our mayor, Nancy Wenande, made the selections. She also appointed the three City Commission members.

TPO: What process did the committee follow?

Goodmanson: HDR is our engineering firm. Steve Quail, P.E. BCEE, is the design engineer on our project. He brought three architects from his firm — two structural designers and a landscape architect. At the first meeting, we discussed basic ideas about what we wanted and didn’t want. The architects then went back to their office and put together renderings showing the landscape and the building itself.

At a second meeting, we went through four or five renderings and picked them apart — things we liked from one, things we liked from another. The architects took that information back and came back with a new design. We had one more meeting to go through that design and make the final minor changes. The architects then created a final rendering, which was approved by the City Commission last October.

TPO: What was the nature and tone of the committee’s discussions?

Goodmanson: I was worried at the start that we wouldn’t reach a consensus — that we’d have seven or eight opinions on how the plant should look. I was pleasantly surprised at how much give and take there was. Most of the committee members, including the three members from the public, had been adamant earlier about wanting to move the plant out of the park. But once the decision had been made to leave it there, they were on board in coming up with unique ideas for making the structure attractive. In every decision there were always one or two who weren’t happy with it, but everyone was very willing to compromise. Someone might say, “I’m the only one who thinks the brick should be red, so I’m willing to give on the color of the brick.”

TPO: What were some key outcomes of the committee’s work?

Goodmanson: We didn’t want a building that would catch people’s eyes, but we wanted something that when they did look at it, it would look nice. So we worked with a lot of vegetation to screen the building. Because we don’t have a lot of public facilities near the bridge, we added public restrooms to the design. They are the only restrooms in the park that will be open all year. Noise was an issue. We incorporated features to buffer the sound. The plant will include an aeration tower, and we’re going to turn that into a clock tower. We came up with a lot of little things that are going to dress the facility up.

TPO: Would you say the committee’s work led to some better decisions than would have been made otherwise?

Goodmanson: Where the building design is concerned, without a doubt. For my part, I’m interested mainly in the engineering side — in the nuts and bolts of how the plant will work inside. With the architects and community members involved, the committee came up with ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to me. The public restrooms were a great idea that will help the public support having the building in the park. For security lighting, instead of having lights on the side of the building, we’re going to have antique light poles around the plant to tie in with the lighting in the downtown and throughout the park.

TPO: What lessons can water professionals learn from your experience about the importance of involving the public in major projects?

Goodmanson: I think it was critical on the front end to get out to the public and sell what we were doing and why, and keep them informed. Some votes in the city in the past have not gone well, and I think it’s because people just didn’t know. When you don’t educate people on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, their first thought is often to say no.

Getting up in front of people and speaking isn’t something I like to do, but in the long run, doing that has saved us a lot of time and energy, versus trying to explain the project after it was all designed. People don’t want to see their water rates go up by 40 percent, and I don’t blame them. But we showed them the issues we had and why we needed to build this plant. As a result, the project has really gone quite smoothly.   


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