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Board weighs replacement of sewage treatment plant

| Thursday, Aug. 1, 2002

The sewage treatment plant serving three Southmoreland schools located in Alverton is on its last legs, and school directors are going to have to make some decisions soon.

District maintenance manager Thomas Gockel told the board Wednesday that the plant - which treats wastewater from Alverton Elementary and Southmoreland junior and senior high schools - has cost the district more than $16,000 in repairs just this past month.

The good news, Gockel said, is that the plant, which is located adjacent to the high school stadium, remains in compliance with state Department of Environmental Protection standards, meaning fines are not imminent.

"It's legal, but it's just breaking down all the time," Gockel said. "It could go down again tomorrow, but we're trying to keep it going the next 12 to 18 months. Time is running out down there."

The district has been aware of the problems at the plant for some time, and recently asked Richard Widmer of Widmer Engineering Inc., of Connellsville, to do a study and make recommendations. Widmer presented the results to the board Wednesday.

"The plant right now is in terrible condition," Widmer said, adding he has met with Scottdale Borough and Fay-West Municipal Authority officials about the possibility of tapping into their municipal system.

"But that's not going to happen any time soon," he said.

Because the district plans to relocate any new plant a couple hundred yards from the present site, Widmer said new DEP permits would be required and that could take several months. After that, designs could be commissioned, and then agency approval would have to be obtained. The entire process could take more than a year, Widmer said.

But there are some advantages to the requirement of obtaining new permits.

The plant is permitted to handle 29,000 gallons of sewage per day, which is more than is needed, Widmer said, adding that the plant's sand-filter treatment system also is not necessary and would not be required in a new plant. In addition, sewage treatment technology has greatly improved since the plant was built more than 40 years ago.

Widmer recommended the board consider a 21,000-gallon-per-day plant that does not include sand filters. He also suggested the use of a flow-equalization facility that would enable the new plant to operate more efficiently than the current facility. Flow into the system is at its highest at about noon each school day, and the flow-equalization system would even out the amount the plant handles at any given time.

If the district decides to go with the smaller plant, the cost would likely run slightly less than $300,000, Widmer said. The larger plant with sand filters would be about $100,000 more.

District Business Manager William Porter's concern was that the plant be tied in with renovations being planned in the district. Should the plant be included in the planned renovations to Alverton Elementary and the construction of a new middle school, up to two-thirds of the cost of the project could be reimbursed by the state, Porter said.

But, in order for the sewage plant to be included in the renovation project, the board will have to make some decisions soon about exactly what the renovations will entail and exactly where a new middle school will be built.

It remains unclear whether those decisions will be forthcoming, however.

The board members will have to meet again with the district's architect - a session that will likely not be scheduled before October - and Director Jaydene Nelson said she wants the district to host a public meeting on the renovations before making her decision.

Forys is a reporter for the Tribune-Review.

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