A site layout illustrates the location of the new water reservoir on the east side of South Ninth Street. (Image by Westech Engineering via City of Philomath)

The initial phase of the city’s efforts to modernize Philomath’s aging water system cleared a hurdle Monday night with the City Council’s approval of a $4.2 million bid to construct a water reservoir.

The new 1.5-million-gallon concrete storage facility represents the first stage of a project that also includes a new water treatment plant, a system to collect water from the Marys River and a high-service pump station.

“Construction is going to start in a sort of administrative phase almost just where I start getting information from the contractor about different components,” Westech Engineering Project Manager Peter Blumenthal said. “I would say you could probably start seeing some early work in 40 days, maybe 45, and then it will ramp up quite quickly after that.”

The second phase with the physical plant and other components will likely go out for bid this spring, City Manager Chris Workman said, with construction next summer.

HP Civil Inc., which is based in Stayton, won the $4,161,000 contract. The water reservoir will be located just inside the west boundary of Marys River Park on South Ninth Street — across from the general vicinity of the current water treatment plant.

Westech Engineering received competitive quotes from three bidders. The other two bids came in at $4,447,500 and $4,527,500.

The water treatment plant and reservoir project’s budget was set at $16.1 million but based on comments by Mike Murzynsky, finance director, the city is currently seeing a budgetary shortfall that could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Specific to the water reservoir, the original estimate going back around five years or so was $3.1 million, which is about $1 million less than the winning bid.

Workman said budgetary overages are a nationwide problem.

“Any of these public works projects that have been in the pipeline are seeing these increased costs — both on labor and on the materials side,” he said. “There are funds available still and we’ll continue to pursue those.”

Murzynsky said options could be to borrow the needed funds through a Business Oregon loan, shift around other projects or create revenue by raising water rates. Workman said additional grants could also be possible. Various factors are in play with how the financing works out, including the water treatment plant construction pushed out into the next fiscal year.

However, a lot of questions related to costs remain, including how the bids will come in for the second phase of the project. Mursynsky also said that a utility rate study will be done, which will include a “deep analysis.”

Workman said the bottom line is that the city will have the cash to complete the project and it’s just a matter of figuring out where the funds come from to backfill the overages. He added that those conversations will be upcoming at the committee and council levels early next year.

A drawing provides an idea of what the concrete water reservoir will look like. (Image by Westech Engineering via City of Philomath)

Public Works Director Kevin Fear and Westech’s Blumenthal answered several questions during the 45-minute discussion with several of those related to the possibility of spending $60,000 on anti-graffiti primer and coating.

Blumenthal explained the process involved with application but stopped short of offering a recommendation while deferring the question to those who are much-better in tune with what’s experienced in Philomath.

“We have varying degrees of graffiti around town … the existing reservoir has been tagged several times,” Fear said, referring to the existing storage tank on Neabeack Hill. “We’ve had just in the recent past, within the last couple of months, we’ve had a lot of street signs that have been tagged with paint, especially around the school. We have other vandalism … in both parks (City Park and Marys River Park) besides graffiti but we do get graffiti on occasion.”

Fear said the city spends $500 to $600 in a typical year on graffiti cleanup.

Councilors also spent some time talking about the planned installation of a fence around the finished reservoir. The current plan is to put in a chain link fence 6 feet in height with three rows of barbed wire on top.

“We’ve done a lot of these facilities — some have fences and some clients want a more open approach and don’t want a fence at all,” Blumenthal said. “We’ve done a large number of types and then you get into the design of the fence, what style, and we typically defer that to user preferences.”

The fencing would be built in the final stages of the overall project’s construction. The cost was not included in the water reservoir construction bid.

Councilor Teresa Nielson made a motion to approve the HP Civil bid plus the anti-graffiti options at a total cost of $4,221,000. But other councilors were hesitant to spend $60,000 on those options and there were also questions about whether the new reservoir could become the site of an art project. As a result, the original motion was amended to remove the anti-graffiti expense and approve HP Civil’s base price of $4,161,000.

On a side note, the city didn’t dismiss the anti-graffiti primer and coating idea entirely and could revisit the issue in the future as things come into better focus.

In other news from the meeting, the council unanimously approved on a roll-call vote an ordinance to declare a two-year moratorium on psilocybin product manufacturing and service centers based on the recent outcome of the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The council also went into an executive session for about 40 minutes “to consult legal counsel regarding litigation or litigation likely to be filed.” The council returned to regular session only to adjourn without any further action.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.