By Mary Spicer
A $6 million project that may eventually replace Meadville Area Water Authority’s Highland Reservoir with a pair of large concrete tanks in approximately the same location has formally moved into the design stage.
However, the first step in the design stage is to determine whether the land upon which the proposed tanks would sit is solid enough to adequately support two 2.5 million gallon tanks filled with water. That’s almost 42 million pounds — 21,000 tons — of water, plus the weight of all the concrete it would take to contain it.
Once the available geologic information as been reviewed, a geotechnical test drilling plan has been developed and executed, laboratory testing samples have been collected and the testing is complete, a decision can be made about the viability of the project.
During its monthly meeting Monday night, MAWA gave its consulting engineers, Gannett Fleming Inc. of Pittsburgh, the go-ahead to launch design, geotechnical and bidding phase engineering services related to the tanks for an amount not to exceed $155,000.
Built in 1874, the 150-foot by 300-foot earthen impoundment with a center dividing wall, concrete panel bottom and flexible liner and cover has reached the end of its useful life, according to recent engineering studies.
The 4.5 million gallon Highland Reservoir is near the intersection of Highland Avenue and Limber Road just north of the Allegheny College campus. Because the city’s water system has been constructed to specifically handle the flow of water coming from the reservoir, its replacement must be in approximately the same location and the 5 million gallons of water the tanks would be designed to hold must continue to flow from the same elevation.
No redundancy was built into the current system, which means that a replacement must be constructed before the current reservoir can be taken out of operation. Because of the massive amount of water involved, installing some sort of temporary tanks has been eliminated as an option, thereby also eliminating the possibility of constructing the tanks on the reservoir’s current footprint.
Once the geotechnical subsurface investigation is complete and the site has been determined to be suitable, plans must be prepared and permits and approvals must be obtained. A partial list includes wetland identification and delineation; erosion and sedimentation control plan; public water supply permit; construction-site and post-construction stormwater management plans; and local building, zoning and land use permits.
If the project proceeds as initially planned, one of the things that must be determined is the fate of H.P. Way Park, a public park and playground that currently occupies the site planned for the tanks.
At the present time, the design phase includes demolition of the existing park structures and equipment, including the tennis court, fencing and playground equipment as well as demolition of the existing reservoir after the new tanks have been put into service.
While the current agreement “assumes restoration involves only grading with excess fill available on-site, followed by vegetative stabilization (grass),” discussions are now under way with the city about the future of the park.
According to City Manager Joe Chriest, the city is still researching the deeds originally transferring property at the site to the city to see if there are any restrictions on the use of the land.
The city turned the park, the reservoir and other properties in both Meadville and Vernon Township over to MAWA in 1992, when the authority was formed, for the sum of $1, having “reserved the right to continue its use of the surface of (specified) parcels for park, target, composting and recreational use as well as the right to use the surface of the other parcels quitclaimed for recreational purposes should it chose to do so in the future.”
Chriest stressed that the uncertain future of the park will not have any impact on MAWA’s ability to proceed with the project. “The water authority has been diligently looking at this — and trying to do what is most cost-effective and best for the city of Meadville,” Chriest said Monday.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at email@example.com.