Baton Rouge tackles massive project
In an age of down-sized government and overworked city staff, it is often hard for municipalities to adequately staff and supervise large infrastructure and public works projects. Consequently, city governments are relying increasingly on consultants and engineering firms to ease the load.
In 1987, the city of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish, La., faced a serious wastewater treatment situation. The Consolidated Sewer District, consisting of three treatment plants and an interconnecting sewer system, had experienced sewage backup and overflow problems for many years.
Additionally, by 1987, growth in the outlying parish areas led to construction of 140 small treatment facilities. Construction and maintenance proved to be an expensive undertaking, and environmental problems emerged as well.
Discharge from the facilities began to spread into environmentally sensitive areas of the Mississippi River and the Amite and Comite river basins. These factors combined with flooding and raw sewage discharges during storm events led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to order the city/parish to comply with a mandate for upgrading the collection and treatment system to meet federal Clean Water Act regulations.
In 1987, with federal and state fines mounting and with a lack of funds for the necessary improvements, Baton Rouge turned to Cambridge, Mass.-based environmental engineering firm Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM) to jump-start the project. Efforts included defining the project’s scope, coordinating the design of all facilities using 48 design consultant firms and proving expertise and management of the project’s schedule, budget and permitting.
The massive project included upgrading three large wastewater treatment plants, more than 200 miles of pipeline and 176 pumping stations, while eliminating 134 small treatment plants – all within a federally-mandated six years. Working with the Baton Rouge Department of Public Works, a strategy to fund the $288-million construction effort through sewer user fees and a 1/2-cent sales tax was developed.
Initially, guidelines, a program outline and preliminary designs and budgets were developed by reviewing demographics, flow estimates, and existing system inventories. To help the city/parish select primary and subconsultants, the company recommended the qualifications, experience levels, numbers and types of consultants needed, which included specialists in civil, mechanical, structural, electrical and environmental engineering, as well as topographical surveying firms.
A multi-tiered management network was also established to guide the project and facilitate concurrent design projects Weekly meetings were held including all design teams to foster communication and coordination throughout the project, and contact with city/parish officials was constant to expedite, design decisions and keep the project on schedule.
Prior to the yearlong design phase, the system configuration was analyzed, and a closed pressurized wastewater collection system was proposed, rather than a system of lift stations, force mains and gravity lines — a change that reduced the estimated $380-million project costs by more than $90 million. A pressurized system was determined to be the most cost-effective since numerous, massive energy-consuming pumping stations would have been necessary for a gravity system, due to the relatively flat topography of East Baton Rouge Parish.
Operational energy costs would also be lower in a pressurized system because the use of the largest energy-consuming pumps would be limited.
To meet strict budget and schedule challenges, the project team prepared rigorous design standards to ensure coordination among the 15 primary design consultants. During the design phase, technical specifications, design details, design criteria, drafting symbols and construction contract documents were standardized. A construction services practice manual was developed to guide the management of as many as 30 concurrent construction projects which began in 1988.
The protocol for processing payment requests and change orders was standardized, as well as the handling of monthly progress meetings, shop drawing reviews, daily inspections, completion certificates and record drawings. In addition, during the construction phase, the program manager’s supervision provided consistency in the interpretation of contract documents, promoting uniform contract administration throughout the project.
The review process was essential for the project’s success. Reviews began in the design phase and continued through plan completion and pre-construction phases at the established design milestones of 50 percent, 75 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent completion.
Because of the accelerated timeframe — all work has to be completed by December 31, 1996 — the project required extensive coordination to ensure the designs reflected continuously changing site conditions. A plan-in-hand inspection was conducted for each construction project before the final contract document was completed and signed. Site changes were incorporated into the plans before the bidding phase, which eliminated potential conflicts and ensured the project remained within the budget.
The number of people involved in the project posed an additional management challenge. Since the project began, more than 100 local contractors have been involved, 2,000 local citizens have been directly employed and another 1,500 have been indirectly employed by the project.
The company’s construction team supervised all construction service activities from shop drawing review to change order evaluation, payment request review and contract closeout. This supervision was essential for maintaining consistency in construction administration, ensuring the continuity and quality control established in the design phase continued through construction.
Public involvement was also a key component. A citizens’ hotline was established to respond to queries about the project’s impact on local neighborhoods with calls going directly to the program management office, and the chief program and construction managers on call 24 hours-a-day. Public meetings and forums were held to educate the public about the project and to address concerns.
The percentage of change orders for the project has been significantly lower than the industry standard of 3.3 percent, and as a result of the careful coordination and consistent communication among team members, all consent decree deadlines have been met. With the exception of the treatment plant expansions, the project was completed by the end of 1994.
Treatment plant expansions and upgrades will be completed by the federally-mandated deadline of 1996 with city/parish public works officials currently being trained to operate and maintain the system, as well as helping them review warranties on all products and work completed.
“This is a success story for our city,” says Baton Rouge Mayor Tom Ed McHugh. “I am pleased to find that the program will be completed on schedule.”