As city commissioners struggle with when to restart efforts to build a new $88 million sewer plant south of the Wakarusa River, they’re close to enlisting a new set of eyes to help them.
City commissioners on Tuesday took another step toward officially moving away from Kansas City-based Black & Veatch, the giant engineering firm that has designed much of the city’s sewer system over the last several decades.
Commissioners at a Tuesday afternoon study session received a staff recommendation that the engineering firms of Burns & McDonnell and BG Consultants be selected to conduct the next master plan for the city’s sewer system.
“I think it is valuable to have a firm with a little bit different outlook and experience, but that is not meant to slight the work of Black & Veatch,” City Manager David Corliss said.
The change comes at a monumental time for the city’s sewer system. The city already has purchased about 500 acres of ground south of the Wakarusa River to construct a new sewer plant. Originally, the city was convinced the plant needed to be built by 2010 in order for the city to serve population growth. But as evidence mounted that the city’s growth rate had slowed significantly, commissioners put the brakes on the project.
Now they want guidance on when they should restart the project, although staff members continue to remain confident that the project will be needed in the near future. Corliss said he expects the project will need to be restarted in the next five years.
The master plan also will be used to help set future sewer rates in the city. The last plan was completed in 2003, and the city has budgeted $325,000 to create a new plan.
The recommended change in consultants also comes after major concerns were expressed about the adequacy of the city’s sewer system in northwest Lawrence in 2006. Concerns over whether the city had underbuilt the sewer system in growing northwest Lawrence were a factor in the forced resignation of then-City Manager Mike Wildgen.
Corliss, who was an assistant city manager at the time, said those sewer concerns did play a role in the most recent evaluation Black & Veatch received by a staff committee studying which company should do the sewer plan work. He said that the sewer crisis highlighted some areas where the master plan could be improved.
Commissioners said they agreed the current plan was out of date and needed to be replaced. “I think getting a wastewater plan done is pretty important right now,” Mayor Rob Chestnut said.
But commissioners stopped short of saying they were ready to give the work to Burns & McDonnell. They agreed to put the issue on their agenda for next week.