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Public meetings planned for new utility building

POSTED: March 29, 2013 12:02 a.m.

Public input is essential to the success of the new building planned at Gainesville’s Riverside Drive water treatment plant, City Council members said Thursday.

Council members gave that opinion to public utilities officials after seeing a presentation at the council work session. A resolution to replace, upgrade and move the plant’s chemical systems to a new building is expected to be on the agenda for next week’s meeting, but several members said they don’t want to spend $700,000 on a building design residents dislike. 

“The earlier, the better,” Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said, suggesting they emphasize the safety aspect of the project to the community. 

The water treatment plant was built more than 50 years ago, and worn chemical systems pose a safety hazard to workers and the surrounding communities, said Joel Altherr, a project manager in public utilities.

Modernizations include replacing chlorine gas use with liquid bleach, replacing the storage tanks for alum, a chemical used to purify water, with new fiberglass plastic tanks and switching to a liquid lime system instead of using dry lime, which can irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory tract.

Altherr said the people he’s talked to like the idea of getting rid of the chlorine gas, but want to know what the building will look like. Design is set to include how the building will look and landscaping, including drawings of the property with the new building. 

Part of the project includes rerouting Crepe Myrtle Lane far west of the property to fence off the buildings.

Councilman Bob Hamrick said public comment should be a priority before moving forward. Moving the roadway will really impact the neighborhood, he said.

“I believe I would rather have their approval at the beginning,” Hamrick said.

Altherr said utilities officials plan to have an open house and launch a public relations campaign to talk to residents.

Mayor Danny Dunagan said he doesn’t want the design finished before the public sees it because the city will have to pay for changes if neighbors don’t like it. Residents will want to make sure the building will blend with the neighborhood, such as being constructed with brick, he said. It’s planned as a 3,600-square-foot, one-story building that’s as tall as a typical two-story building.

City Manager Kip Padgett suggested having a preliminary public meeting soon to run through the different options explored and why this is the best. But the council will have to give utilities officials some authority to create drawings for residents. 

“If you tell people ‘We’re going to put it here,’ the first question is going to be ‘What’s it going to look like,’” Padgett said. “We need to be able to provide them something.” 

In other businesses, Public Works Director David Dockery said officials plan to have all of the city’s 200 detention ponds examined by this summer. 

This was a response to a concern from Michael Proulx, president of the Lakeshore Heights Homeowners Association, about these ponds breeding mosquitoes and spreading illnesses such as the West Nile virus. Proulx raised the issue when he spoke in opposition to the development of a retail shopping center near the Lakeshore Heights neighborhood at a recent Gainesville City Council meeting. The development was approved.


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