Goodwin Brothers Construction Inc.
When it comes to wastewater infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives the U.S. a D+.
According to ASCE, 76 percent of the population relies on the nation’s 14,748 wastewater treatment plants, which it calls “the most basic and critical infrastructure systems for protecting public health and the environment.”
That wastewater infrastructure is in desperate need of investment, though—$271 billion over 25 years, if you ask the Environmental Protection Agency. While some funding comes from the federal government, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reports that 95 percent of water infrastructure spending is made at the local level.
In Missouri, Kansas City and its bedroom community, the City of Liberty, have become painfully aware of these statistics. But there may be a silver lining. Missouri recently passed a law that allows the public sector to use design-build construction. As more municipalities look to upgrade or build wastewater treatment plants, design-build methodology might slow the flood of challenges they face, and firms like Goodwin Brothers Construction Inc. are ready to help.
Double the speed with design-build
In 2010, the EPA and U.S. Justice Department reached a consent decree, requiring Kansas City to complete a 25-year sewer overhaul plan, costing up to $5 billion. It became clear that Kansas City residents would bear the burden of those costs, and according to The Kansas City Star, residents’ annual water bills have since risen to as high as $1,200.
Liberty had been outsourcing its water treatment to Kansas City, but in order to keep the rates of its 30,000 residents from skyrocketing, Liberty decided to build its own wastewater treatment plant.
“We didn’t think the rates we were receiving from Kansas City were sustainable,” Liberty Mayor Lyndell Brenton told local radio station KCUR 89.3. “The rate increases we were seeing from them were typically double digit, anywhere from nine to 15 percent increases.”
The city had to act fast, and of course, it had to contain costs.
To do that, Liberty partnered with Goodwin Brothers, a 70-year-old general contracting company specializing in heavy-industrial, municipal and earthmoving projects. The firm is headquartered in Crystal City, Missouri, about a four-hour drive from Liberty, and since the mid-70s it’s completed hundreds of water and wastewater treatment plant renovation and construction projects.
Together, Liberty and Goodwin Brothers set out to build a new, nearly $80-million wastewater treatment plant, administration and maintenance facilities, pump stations, force main and trunk sewers. The city gave Goodwin Brothers just 30 months to do what could have easily taken one or two years longer, and everyone involved agreed, only a design-build approach would allow that kind of time constraint.
Because this was a design-build project, Liberty didn’t hand Goodwin Brothers any bridging documents or drawings. One of the requirements was that the plant handle Liberty’s sewer flows for the next 30 years or more. And while Liberty did have a plot of land for the plant, it told Goodwin Brothers it could build elsewhere in the city, so long as the project stayed within budget.
While the other teams shortlisted for the project were engineer-led, Goodwin Brothers’ team was contractor-led. That gave the company an advantage, says Doug Wachsnicht, the company’s vice president.
“We looked at it kind of as a challenge and kind of looked forward to it, where I think some of these other, larger firms or engineering firms were more conservative and not willing to take some of the risks we did,” he says.
While some believe that projects owners lose control with the design-build methodology, the Liberty project might have proven that opinion wrong. At least three people from the city sat in on weekly project meetings, and there was open dialogue between the city, contractors and engineers throughout.
“The City of Liberty was excellent,” Wachsnicht says. “They wanted us to be nimble and make decisions quickly, and they did the same thing.”
Prospecting a suitable plot
Goodwin Brothers quickly discovered that the plot of land the city had set aside for the treatment plant was in a flood plain, and geotechnical engineers said it would take anywhere from three to 12 months to prepare the water-logged land to be suitable for construction. Liberty didn’t have that kind of time, so Goodwin Brothers set out in search of another option.
Goodwin Brothers found another location situated in the corner of a several-hundred-acre tract of cow pastures that were slated to be developed for commercial and residential use. In lieu of purchasing the property outright, Goodwin Brothers proposed extending roadways, waterlines and internet fiber to make them suitable for both the new treatment facilities and the future development.
“It benefits them for future development; they don’t have to spend the money on infrastructure,” Wachsnicht says. “We needed the infrastructure wherever we built the plant, and we needed a site we could build on right away. … It’s a win-win for the city, too, because that property can be developed sooner and they’ll get more tax base sooner.”
Keys to success
On January 3, 2017, Goodwin Brothers handed the water treatment plant’s keys over to the City of Liberty, and by all accounts the project has been deemed a success.
The plant came in on time and on budget. Residents no longer rely on outsourcing for wastewater treatment, and the facility can serve 70,000 people, more than twice Liberty’s current population.
“The last thing you want is someone who wants to either put a commercial or a residential development in your city and we can’t because we don’t have any capacity to treat sewage,” Mayor Brenton says.
Still, the project was a bold undertaking for Liberty. It was the largest capital improvement project to date, and it was one of the first public sector design-build contracts in Missouri.
“Liberty, they really went out on a limb,” Wachsnicht says, adding that he’s glad it did.
Goodwin Brothers hopes that as more municipalities upgrade their water and wastewater infrastructure, they’ll look to the benefits of design-build construction and to the success of Liberty.
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