A $6.2 million sewer project will be designed to allow westward growth while relieving pressure on pipes through East Lawrence.
Engineers will design an open pool big enough to hold 4 million gallons of sewage in southwest Lawrence.
On Tuesday night, Lawrence city commissioners sealed an $830,000 deal with Black & Veatch Consulting Engineers to design an overflow holding basin just southwest of 31st Street and Kasold Drive, south of the Four Seasons housing development.
Commissioners unanimously approved the contract without discussion.
After the meeting, Commissioner Allen Levine agreed with utilities officials, who said previously that the project was needed both to keep up with new development and preserve heavily used pipes east of Massachusetts Street.
The open sewage pool will be placed within 600 yards of homes.
"It's a lot better than having sewage in basements in East Lawrence," Levine said.
The design contract is the first step toward construction of the $6.2 million project. Commissioners are negotiating with Douglas County officials to buy about two dozen acres of county-owned land to make way for the basin and its new pump station, which would use six 60-horsepower pumps to move nearly 17 million gallons of sewage during peak periods.
The project will help the sewage system operate efficiently when demands are highest, said Dave Wagner, the city's wastewater superintendent. Without the basin acting as a relief valve, basements in East Lawrence would be increasingly susceptible to sewage backups during heavy rains.
"It'll never eliminate them, but it's the next step to help alleviate those problems," Wagner said. "It's like reservoir control, just like the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) does."
The site's current 1.25-million-gallon overflow basin, which will remain in use, is capped by a concrete top. The new basin, however, will be open and exposed to the elements.
While nobody is sure how many times the larger basin will be needed each year, it could expose neighbors to unpleasant smells.
"There certainly is the likelihood of some odor, but we're trying to address that in the design," said Roger Coffey, the city's utilities director.
Designing the project should take about a year, Coffey said, and construction should be completed by the spring of 1999.