Olathe & Southwest Joco

Olathe approves $5.3 million environmental lab

Olathe officials have signed off on a new environmental laboratory to make sure the city can keep up with modern demands for water quality testing and federal regulations.

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve the $5.35 million project, which will be built adjacent to the Cedar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant off 119th Street.

The approximately 13,000-square-foot lab will replace the city’s 1950s-era testing facility at Water Production Plant No. 1 on Curtis Street when it opens next summer. The new lab is nearly three times the size of the existing facility.

The testing lab has seven employees, and no staff growth is anticipated with the new facility.

The current environmental lab performs 80,000 tests a year on samples from the city’s water, sewer and storm water treatment systems to look for dangerous levels of pollutants. It also performs tests for local governments that lack their own labs and can step in to help cities test water quality during emergencies instead of them having to wait several days to get results back from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

A 2009 study determined that the city needed to either expand the current lab or build a new one so it could perform the amount of sampling and analysis required under the federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Standards.

“We’ve outgrown the existing lab, and the investment to keep it to be able to perform as a lab is greater than us being able to build a new facility,” said public works director Mary Jaeger.

Joe Foster, environmental services manager, added that standards to prevent contamination of testing samples have increased significantly, requiring more advanced technology.

“When you’re measuring down to parts-per-billion (for pollutants), you really need to have a good ventilation system, a good filtration system,” Foster said. “The new laboratory is going to be able to facilitate that.”

Money for the project is coming from city water and sewer revenue bonds.

Olathe is contracting with Turner Construction Co. to build the new lab with construction beginning next month. Turner is actually the second company chosen for the project.

The Weitz Co. provided the lowest bid, and city staff had begun working out terms of the contract this summer, when the company told them it was changing some of the key employees assigned to the project.

After reviewing the qualifications of the new employees, staff determined the company was no longer the best option.

Councilmember Jim Randall called the situation “challenging” and thanked the staff members for stopping the contract process and going with another firm.

“I appreciate you putting on the brakes and saying no,” Randall said. “I think it’s instructive for not only the contracting community to understand that we don’t tolerate ‘bait and switch’ but to the citizens to understand that they’re paying the bill for something that they think they’re getting when they aren’t.”

David Twiddy: dtwiddy913@gmail.com