News and Awards

Fulton wastewater plant 'hidden in plain sight'

Georgia Engineers Week Atlanta Business Chronicle - by Allison Shirreffs Contributing Writer

Back in 2002, the late Fulton County Commissioner Bob Fulton recognized that the Johns Creek Water Pollution Control Plant was nearing the end of its useful life.

Continued development in the Johns Creek Basin meant the old plant would need a significant investment to ensure it served the growing needs of the community and met regulatory standards. Rather than continue to invest in an old plant, the county decided to construct a new facility. But where? In north Fulton County, there was no feasible out-of-the-way place to put a new plant. It would need to be built in a highly visible, historic, suburban area, and county officials worried about backlash from the community. After all, who would want a noisy, odorous wastewater treatment facility in their back yard? So Fulton County, with the help of Brown and Caldwell’s environmental engineers and consultants, set about constructing a facility that was, as Brown and Caldwell’s tagline proposes, “Solutions for the New Normal.” Not only would the plant do an excellent job of treating wastewater, Fulton County and the City of Roswell Planning Department envisioned a facility that would be thought of as a welcome addition to the community. The result was the $136 million Johns Creek Environmental Campus (JCEC), which went on line in November of last year.

By using cutting-edge technology, Brown and Caldwell designed a facility that produces a highly purified water that is near drinking water quality and does so without emitting any detectable noise or odor. The 43-acre environmental campus includes a park that is open to the public, 30 acres of nature trails, and an 8,000-square-foot educational facility that will be used to educate schoolchildren about the impact of water quality on the environment. As a result of the project’s importance to the community, its use of innovative technology and for overcoming the unique challenges of getting such a project accomplished on time and on budget, the JCEC has been named the Grand Award winner for the 2010 Engineering Excellence Awards. “It represents a new way of thinking of sewer treatment plants,” said Charles McMillian, a judge with the Georgia Engineering Alliance. The JCEC project utilized a design-build approach with Brown and Caldwell as designer, Archer Western Contractors as the design builder, and Fulton County as the owner. Such an arrangement “helps speed up the process. If you want to change something, it’s easier to do,” said Kelly Comstock, senior associate at Brown and Caldwell. “There’s a lot more coordination.”

At the heart of the below-ground water reclamation facility is the innovative use of membrane bioreactor technology. These ultrafiltration membranes resemble a car’s air filter but are much larger. By using microscopic holes in the membrane, bacteria are filtered out of the water. The result is reclaimed, clean water (known as effluent) treated to a higher level than via the standard reclamation process. This means the wasteload that flows into the nearby Chattahoochee River is reduced by more than 60 percent.

The design also called for shared wall construction (versus separate structures). This meant the footprint of the JCEC facility would be smaller than a standard facility. A separate structure facility would have required 20 acres of land and another $9 million worth of concrete. The JCEC facility sits on 4 acres. The building was designed to mimic the architecture of a historic mill. All the equipment is housed indoors, with silencers and sound enclosures installed around most of the equipment. The odor control system is the most advanced in the state. And the facility’s final operating cost was 25 percent less than projected. Extensive landscaping included the planting of 500 native species trees. A 9,000-gallon cistern captures rainwater for irrigation. And the campus’ educational facility sports classroom space, a lecture auditorium, a teaching laboratory and an area reserved for interactive displays. “It is possible to build a sustainable facility that combines innovative technology with architectural beauty in an inviting campus-like setting,” said Kun Suwanarpa, assistant director of Fulton County’s Department of Public Works.

The goal of the project, she said, “was to have a water reclamation facility that was designed with the community and environment in mind and provide benefits for both.”

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