Friday, January 21, 2005
Septic saga: where, how much, and will it smell?
The school wastewater treatment project took another small step forward this week when the School Building Committee, backed up by Selectmen, authorized designs for the treatment building on a new site off the driveway at the Banta-Davis Land.
At a special meeting on Wednesday morning, Selectmen endorsed the committee's decision to locate the facility at Banta-Davis off Bedford Road. The group sought the endorsement of the Selectmen before expending design funds for the site, said School Business Manager Steve Moore, because of Recreation Commission concerns about the location. Engineering design work for the Banta-Davis site is expected to cost $20-30,000.
The building would be on the right side of the driveway across from the existing baseball field and near the new Recreation Department tennis courts scheduled to be built at Banta-Davis sometime this year. The site would not require an access road, a significant cost factor in the original plans. The original site on the wooded hill to the left of the school gym has an access road requiring a lot of fill to even out the grade. The access road at the original site adds about $225,000 to construction costs, according to the lowest bid received.
When construction bids late last year came in much higher than expected, Selectmen agreed with the committee's decision to try to find ways to reduce costs. Since then, the Building Committee looked once again at where to put the building. After reviewing several previously considered sites, the committee decided not to disrupt any existing Recreation Commission facilities such as the tennis courts on Church Street, said chair Christy Barbee.
Last week Recreation Commission member Maureen Tarca went before the committee to voice concern about the proposed building site at the Banta-Davis playing fields. She asked a question that many wonder, "Can you guarantee the building will not emit an odor?"
Paul Clinghan of Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, engineers for the project, said by scheduling annual pumping of the pre-treatment tank in the building during summer vacation or in winter, any odors would be minimized. The building's vent pipes will also have charcoal filters, says School Building and Grounds Supervisor David Flannery, an item added to guard against any odors. Tarca questioned whether the $225,000 cost savings at Banta-Davis, where an access road is not necessary, is worth the impact on the recreational fields.
Recreation chair Mark Spears said he liked the previous site on the wooded hill near the school because it is a hidden spot. Banta-Davis is a beautiful acreage, said Spears, and putting a wastewater treatment building there is "repulsive," he said, "We should protect the land from this sort of thing."
Tarca later pointed out the irony that with the School Building Committee's need for a solution to wastewater disposal, and the Recreation Commission's need for playing fields, they are both serving the same group, schoolchildren. School Superintendent Marie Doyle agreed the Building Committee hoped to maintain an excellent working relationship with the RecCom, while trying to reduce the financial impact of the project .
Though the building itself will be about 40x40 square feet in size, the greatest challenge for the committee has been finding a place to put it on the school campus or town land. The committee listened patiently to neighbors and town officials over the last two years trying to find a place where it will have the least impact on abutters, natural areas, and town recreation fields and facilities.
The building will house several steel tanks for the rotary biological contactor (RBC) system. It has a simple lab for performing tests and would be maintained by someone licensed for wastewater treatment testing. The painted concrete block building would be screened with landscaping to improve its appearance on the Banta-Davis site. The original location for the discharge (leaching) field for the system near the baseball field at Banta-Davis will not change.
After finding a suitable site for the building, the inevitable pressures of time and money weigh on the project. The current timeline shows the project is to go out to bid once again on February 28 with construction bids opened on April 11. Town Meeting will vote on the additional project costs at spring Town Meeting in May. If voters approve the new costs, construction could begin in June to be completed 7 to 9 months later, says school Business Manager Steve Moore.
Costs will be reduced by starting site excavation and pipe trenches in the summer, compared with starting this winter, says Moore, as contractors no doubt factored bad weather and delays into the high bids received.
The more modifications to the plan, the more the cost went up, said member Peter Stuart, pointing out when the access road grade was modified at the request of the fire department it added significantly to site work costs. Also adding to bid prices were specifications giving limited site access, including where construction materials could be stored at the back of the site where access is more difficult. There was also concern by some contractors about construction in the Page's Brook area along Church Street and the potential for delays.
Total cost rising
The lowest bid received in December was for $2.2 million. The building committee decided to add a 15 percent contingency fee of $375,000 to the project at the request of Town Administrator Madonna Mackenzie and Building Inspector Bob Koning. The contingency fee covers the possibility of encountering additional ledge in the project and any other unforeseen problems.
Business Manager Moore said an additional $200,000 has also been added for construction and project management-related costs, including bid management and miscellaneous costs including a state-required audit at the end of the project. Moore said a new law also went into effect last year requiring school construction projects costing over $1.5 million to hire a project manager. The building committee has hired Mark Thomson of SEA in Cambridge as advisor and consultant for the wastewater treatment project.
With the added contingency fee and project-management costs, the total for the project is now close to $2.8 million. Engineer Paul Clinghan of HTA had originally given the building committee an estimate of $1.5 million, a figure that was approved by the fall 2003 Town Meeting.
The previous 60 percent project reimbursement commitment from the Massachusetts School Business Assistance Bureau is expected to remain intact though the project has been delayed once again, this time by high construction bids and the need to look at other options.
© 2005 The