Cost of city water plant reduced to $56.8 million

Cost of city water plant reduced to $56.8 million

Work on Jillson Avenue facility could start as soon as fall

WOONSOCKET – Work on the city’s new water treatment facility, a $56 million project to replace the existing plant on Manville Road, could begin as soon as fall, say city officials.

Last week, the City Council unanimously authorized Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt to sign a contract with AECOM Technical Services to design, build and operate the plant, a massive infrastructure improvement project mandated by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

Public Works Director Steven D’Agostino told The Breeze that the bid submitted by the global engineering company last year was initially higher.

“We only want to borrow what we absolutely have to borrow,” he said. “We tried to get the price as low as possible without hurting the project.”

AECOM was one of three firms to respond to a request for proposals for the work in January of 2016, along with CH2M Hill and Veolia Water North America. Bids are not disclosed during the negotiation process, but at the inauguration of newly elected officials in December, former City Council President Albert Brien quoted the price at $74 million. Brien told The Breeze last year that all three contractors submitted proposals close to $80 million, significantly more than the city planned to dedicate to the water plant. The facility was at first expected to cost between $40 million and $45 million.

It was through work by the public works, city engineer John Pratt, and representatives from consulting firms hired to help the city rank the proposals that the parties arrived at the price tag of $56,760,800, according to D’Agostino, a cost that includes decommissioning and partial demolition of the existing Charles G. Hammann Memorial Water Treatment Plant.

But the price does not include operation of the plant, a cost that could range from $1.8 million to $2.2 million a year.

“This is lower than what they submitted. There was some value engineering that took place,” said D’Agostino. “There were some fees removed.”

The director said the initial proposal by AECOM also included some components deemed not to be essential to the project.

“We’re all about being frugal,” he said.

D’Agostino declined to discuss specific figures until the contract is officially signed, a move expected to take place this week. He noted that all three bids will be released once the contract becomes official.

The new plant will be built on Jillson Avenue, on a 18.9-acre property behind Bernon Heights Elementary School. The property was purchased by the city for $390,000 in 2011 from Roland and Suzanne Michaud. Construction will include blasting and will continue for at least two years in the mostly residential neighborhood.

But first, AECOM will need to get design plans approved by both DEM and the Department of Health.

“I know they would like to break ground late fall, early winter,” D’Agostino said of the contractor. “There’s no official date.”

Once complete, the 7 million-gallon plant will feed water tanks throughout the city, and will have room to expand to 10 million gallons. It will utilize a dissolve air flotation system for water treatment, more modern technology than the current plant, which may come with a slight improvement to water quality.

“It’s a different type of system,” said D’Agostino. “The quality should be as good, if not better.”

During a vote to move ahead with the firm last week, City Councilor Christopher Beauchamp applauded the news.

“We’ve seen the deterioration of the existing water plant,” Beauchamp said. “This issue has been in the forefront since 2007. It probably started around 2002. We’re finally at a stage where we can build a new water plant – a state of the art water plant that will last 50 years or longer.”

Council President Daniel Gendron said he’s disappointed that the project took so long, pointing to a decision by Baldelli-Hunt to review plans for the plant after she was first elected in 2013.

“The mayor decided to rehash much of what had already been done and came back with the same – actually more expensive – results,” Gendron said. “I’m happy that we’re where we are today. I just wish we had been here four years ago.”

Gendron noted the change in price tag.

“It’s expensive, but it’s the best price that we got,” he said. “We had heard many numbers. We heard some at the inauguration that were quite a bit higher.”

The contract will authorize AECOM and partner Suez Water Inc. to operate the plant for 20 years with the potential for extensions. Woonsocket Water Department employees are expected to be offered jobs at the new facility during the privatization.

D’Agostino noted that the work and accompanying price tag is necessary. The city has been under a consent order with DEM since 2008 to reduce pollutants from the current 60-year-old plant discharged into the Blackstone River.

“We chose the most qualified lowest bidder,” D’Agostino said. “I don’t want a $1,000-a-day fine from DEM.”

In response to criticism that the project moved too slowly, the public works director asked, “What mayor comes in office and immediately goes out to RFP for a water treatment plant? You have to put all of the pieces in place.”

“It’s a significant amount of money. You just have to make sure you do your due diligence. Overall, the project moved right along.”

D’Agostino said any fees for the project beyond the anticipated loan will be paid out of the city’s Water Enterprise Fund.

“AECOM is an outstanding company,” he said. “This is all they do: wastewater and water.”

Over the winter, said D’Agostino, he toured a similar plant that the company built in Portsmouth three years ago.

“It was a very nice facility,” he said. “That went into my decision making.”


What are the terms of the debt? How much interest? How long to maturity? How much more will it cost for water?

Missing details, to be sure. Leads me to believe that water bills will be increasing significantly. Not to worry though, it's only water inflation.

Anyone out there that can answer these questions? I like to know what's coming before it shows up in the mailbox.

Hi Nelson. There will certainly be follow up regarding this major expense once the bids are released as public documents.

Funny, original cost projection was not to exceed ~40 million (see link below), now 56 + million is a bargain? 56 + million (and rising) that doesn’t include excavation and installation of the pumping station that has to pump the water up to the “Water Plant in the Clouds” before it’s treated.

Major excavation, blasting, drilling into solid ledge, construction and debris removal right in the middle of a major residential and education neighborhood with limited access in and limited access out on secondary city streets? NICE.

Good luck neighboring folks, you’re in for long ride.

Don’t you just love the spin that the “now current” local politicians have on their pet projects?

Guaranteed, by completion, this is a 70 + million dollar project!

Great job there Danny and Jimmy, way to reign in expenses.......

you make it seem as if the article is purposely evading these facts/questions.
Cynicism per usual...

You know councilor Cournoyer and Fagnant would never not ask these hard questions!