The idea of spending at least $2 million on new housing for municipal offices has caused nothing but controversy and reams of detailed studies by a special committee.
At the same time, Vermillion officials have quietly been putting everything in place to accomplish improvements at the city's water treatment plant that, at last estimates, will cost over $4.1 million.
The Vermillion City Council plans to open bids for the needed equipment at its Jan. 25, 2006 meeting.
The notion of spending this much money hasn't spurred any public outcry.
No petitions have been circulated calling for a citizen's referendum of the city council's decision to plunk down over $4 million.
No irate citizens have filled the meeting chamber of the city council to complain to aldermen.
Why the calm?
People's acceptance of the city plans for the water treatment plant improvements likely are based on two assumptions:
1) They may not know all of the details of the plans, even though they've always been discussed in public.
2) The improvement, just like water itself, is seen as a necessity for the city.
Vermillion leaders use a simple term to describe what's about to happen at the water treatment plant: Phase III.
"This will allow us to have redundancy which we are lacking now in regard to the water treatment clarification process," said City Manager John Prescott.
Presently, the city's watertreatment plant contains one basin that's 50 feet wide and 55 feet long. It holds approximately 200,000 gallons. The equipment was put in place in 1972.
"It's called a solid contact clarifier basin," said City Utilities Engineer Harold Holoch.
Maintaining the plant is a challenge because of that lack of redundancy. For most of the year, the equipment must operate nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"The plant runs 24 hours a day, and is staffed for 16 hours of each of those days," Holoch said. "In that 16-hour period, it essentially fills the towers and the ground storage reservoir back up to full capacity, so that over the next eight hours, which is from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., they're able to run off of the storage capacity."
City crews are taking advantage of the several week absence of University of South Dakota students because of the holidays.
Vermillion's population has shrunk by several thousand people thanks to the Christmas break, greatly lessening the demands on the water treatment plant.
During the winter months, when USD classes are in session, the city's water consumption is about 1.1 million gallons of water per day.
"Our peak flow, which is typically the hot summer season when people are watering their yards, is about 2.2 million gallons per day," Holoch said. "But when the university is not in session, we're probably down to about 800,000 to 900,000 gallons per day."
Normally, the longest the water treatment equipment can be shut down is six to eight hours. With the students gone, the treatment process can be idle for as long as 18 hours.
"We shut down during that time frame and do our cleaning of the basin," Holoch said, "but you really can't do any maintenance to it in an 18-hour time frame."
That means Vermillion's water is being treated by equipment that's over 30 years old.
"It's got the original gears and bearings in the contact clarifier basin that rotates," Holoch said. "This basin is where chemicals are added that creates floc that settles out your iron and manganese and hardness out of the water, and clarifies the water, essentially."
What's on tap
The Phase III improvement project includes the construction of a new, second solid contact clarifier basin. "We'll be able to put that into operation, and then go in and do the maintenance and upgrades that we need to do to our original basin that we don't have the ability to do right now," Prescott said.
The second basin also enhances Vermillion's ability to provide an increased volume of treated water over the years to match the community's growth.
"When our plant was built in 1972, the growth that was projected at the time predicted that within 20 years, we would have to add a second basin," Holoch said. "Our growth has flattened out, and we're still quite a ways away for needing the second basin for capacity reasons.
"It's strictly for redundancy and for taking it out of service so we can work on it," he said.
There's no question, from an engineering standpoint, that the water treatment plant needs some upgrading.
Much of the equipment is over 30 years old. It's the equivalent of trying to efficiently drive a very used 1972 automobile.
"The motors and things like that are definitely getting old, and probably getting hard to get parts for if you had a problem with them," Holoch said.
Phase II of improvements to the plant, completed several years ago, allowed staff to replace outdated controls, switches and other mechanically-operated machinery with more modern electronic equipment.
Most of the new work scheduled for the plant will take place in its interior, but some of the changes will be obvious to Vermillion citizens.
"The building will move farther to the south, and we will be using the parking lot used by the water treatment staff," Prescott said. "But for the most part, it will be internal things that will be taking place with the basin and the controls."
A new driveway and parking lot will be added to the plant as part of the Phase III improvements.
The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Loan required the city last July to hold a public hearing on the Phase III project and proposed funding sources.
The proposed project funding consists of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) of $360,500 and a Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loan for 20 years at 2.5 percent.
Last July, engineers revised the project costs to $4,139,500. Subtract the grant total from that amount, and the needed loan is $3,779,500.
"We were originally planning to bid that project in November of this year," Prescott said. "With the hurricanes in the Louisiana and Mississippi area, our consultant told us at that time that the market was unstable. There would be a chance that we would not be able to get a bid on some of the parts, or the prices may be very high."
The city decided to wait until late January to give the market a chance to stabilize, he said.
"We still feel that by bidding in late January, the contractor can get a spring start and not have to wait a full construction season for this project to get underway," Holoch said.
Should bids come in higher than anticipated, the city could perhaps increase the amount and time period of the loan.
If the numbers come in too high, the city may pursue options, such as changing the design of the building addition, or using some materials that are less costly, Holoch said.