At 57, Aging Plant Set For Retirement

In 1956, Elvis was number one on the pop music chart with “Heartbreak Hotel”, the first “Dear Abby” column appeared in newspapers, Dwight Eisenhower was president and Warren’s wastewater treatment facility on Harmar Street was built.

Fifty-seven years later, the beginning steps in the three-year construction process to build a new wastewater treatment plant have been taken.

Last week, a legal notice seeking bids for two contracts for the City of Warren’s new plant appeared in the Times Observer.

Over the past 57 years, the plant’s equipment has aged and the demands on the plant have grown.

“You’re walking on 1956,” City Director of Public Works Mike Holtz said, noting the construction process is expected to take three years. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Most of the old plant – the return activated sludge plant built in 1956 and secondary biological treatment added in 1972, with the exception of a few digester and storage tanks will be demolished. The new facility will be built adjacent to the current facility.

“The majority of the plant is going to be built right beside it,” said Holtz. “The bids are out this week. The bid that’s out right now is general for the plant. There will be other contracts to follow, this is certainly the largest of them all. There will be some smaller contracts, one for the electrical and there will be a series of small contracts for the pump stations.”

The city’s pump stations on Clark and Pine streets are also going to be upgraded.

“The whole idea is to build a new facility and keep this one going. You can’t not treat sewage,” said Holtz. “Then once the new plant is working they’ll demo parts of this plant and put it all together.”

The new facility will be much larger and will allow the city to stop using combined sewer overflows through the system, meaning high-flow periods will no longer exceed the system capacity and be discharged directly into the Allegheny River.

“One of the goals of this project is we won’t be bypassing that,” said Holtz. “The other reason for the update is the sheer fact that, basically, the plant, the heart of the plant, is the 1956 or 1972 systems.”

The project will include a a new control building, pump system, a lab for testing materials and a sludge dewatering system, which the city has been contracting out.

Warren City Council approved a state grant and loan package for improvement work on the city’s wastewater treatment system in February which are projected to cost approximately $24,525,000.

The city was awarded a $4,508,277 grant through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) program in January. The grant is accompanied by a low-interest loan of $19,491,723 provided at a one percent interest rate over 30 years. Additional project costs include an approximately $525,000 local contribution.

According to Holtz, if things go smoothly when bids are opened at the end of Aug., construction should begin this year.

“We’re hoping to break ground before the end of the year,” Holtz said before laying out a timeline for project completion of somewhere between two and three years. “It’s a fairly lengthy process. There’s just a lot of work to be done.”