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Cape breaks ground on $15.6 million operations building

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Jul 22, 2021

Cape Coral City Council members and staff take part in the the groundbreaking of the new operations building at the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility on Thursday. The projected is budgeted at $15.6 million and will be hurricane hardened to withstand a Category 4 storm so that employees may shelter in place and continue to operate at the center. CHUCK BALLARO

When Hurricane Irma hit, employees who worked at the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility were forced to evacuate, leaving the facility to run on its own.

Thursday, the city broke ground on a new operations building that would allow those who work there to shelter in place and make sure the facility keeps running.

Caryn Huff, project executive at Wharton-Smith, who will manage the construction of the facility, said it is a big day for the city in reaching this milestone.

“Everyone has been great to work with up to this point. It’s been a long time coming and we know it’s important to the city. There’s been a lot of planning, design work, engineering, budgeting to get us here,” Huff said.

The original operations building was constructed in 1994 and was deemed uninhabitable due to serious defects and demolished.

The city’s wastewater operators are currently working out of a temporary trailer until construction of the new building is complete.

The new operations building will be a two-story 25,000-square-foot facility designed to withstand a Category 4 hurricane and its storm surge and will allow staff to shelter in place while maintaining the operation of the wastewater plant. There also will be enhanced security and a generator on the second floor provide backup electricity.

During Hurricane Irma in 2017, the city was afraid of storm surge so they had to leave everything running and evacuate.

The new building will cost about $15.6 million and is being funded through the Utilities Department’s capital improvement budget. It is scheduled to be completed in January 2023.

Mayor John Gunter said the city’s water treatment facility is one of the best around, and that the new building is a symbol of how the city keeps growing and how it is keeping up with the growth.

“We have people from around the world who come to see how we do things,” Gunter said. “This will be an extension of all our efforts of the employees and the excellent customer service to our community. We expect that and we want to give them the tools they need.”

“We’re really excited to get this project under way. It will be a great facility with a training room, which will allow us to train our staff without sending them out of town,” Utilities Director Jeff Pearson said, adding the building will consolidate all personnel and improve conditions for electrical and mechanical staff.

The Southwest Water Reclamation Facility treats up to 15 million gallons per day of wastewater. That will not change as a result of this project, though the facility is capable of expansion, which is not expected anytime soon, Pearson said.

The Southwest Water Reclamation Facility is at 2104 S.W. 32nd St.

Wastewater is processed to meet or exceed all Environmental Protection Agency and Florida Department of Environmental Protection standards for reuse water, officials said. The reuse water is distributed via the city’s irrigation system for lawn watering.

The water can also be used to irrigate crops, to cool the major air conditioning units such as at the hospital, and for fire service, if necessary.

The city’s irrigation water service is supplied by treated wastewater from the city’s two water reclamation facilities and supplemented by freshwater canal water pumped from canal pumping stations.