ITHACA, N.Y.—The City of Ithaca’s Common Council approved a $1.8 million capital project at its meeting Wednesday for repairs and replacement efforts at the Ithaca Area Waste Water Treatment Facility (IAWWTF). 

That spending figures into a total $3.2 million of which the IAWWTF’s oversight board, the Special Joint Committee, is requesting from the city, and Town of Ithaca and Town of Dryden largely for repairs and replacements related to the facility’s boiler systems, and heating and efficiency projects.

The city is still determining if it will issue bonds or draw on funds from city coffers to pay for the $1.8 million the City of Ithaca is contributing to the IAWWTF’s capital projects, according to the City Comptroller’s office.

The City of Ithaca, Town of Ithaca, and Town of Dryden are joint owners of the IAWWTF. Ithaca and Dryden’s town boards have not yet approved their share of spending for the project. If all the spending is approved, it will bring the total cost of the boiler system replacement repairs and associated efficiency projects to over $4.1 million dollars, according to the resolution passed by the Common Council.

The boilers play a critical role in the operation of the facility. Not only do they heat the building, but they also heat the facility’s digesters: large tanks that host anaerobic bacteria essential to breaking down solids in wastewater before it is ready to be ejected into Cayuga Lake from the facility.

Work to replace two non-functional boilers — of which the facility has five — began in 2022. 

Scott Gibson, the City of Ithaca’s Acting Assistant Superintendent of Water and Sewer, told Common Council Wednesday that as the project to replace two boilers was underway, it became clear that a host of other work was necessary, like replacing the boilers’ exhaust systems, as well as air intake systems, and installing new pumps and valves.

“Repairs like this have to be done on an almost 40-year-old facility,” Gibson told Common Council Wednesday. 

He said the repairs weren’t “immediately obvious, because by the time you get through the spaghetti network of piping that runs the boiler plant at the wastewater plant, a lot of times you find better, efficient ways to run the system.”

The additional $3.2 in spending that the IAWWTF’s oversight board is requesting is partially to cover the unforeseen costs of those boiler replacements, but also to replace a third boiler that has since gone belly up. The replacement will cost $695,690, according to the resolution council passed.

Gibson said that with a boiler out of commission, the facility is “under capacity to heat for this winter,” making it “paramount” for the facility to remedy the situation as soon as possible.

The IAWWTF’s oversight board included a provision to replace the roof of the plant’s administrative building in the $3.2 million funding request, which is estimated to cost $364,795. The roof has been repaired on numerous occasions, according to Gibson, and is approximately 37 years old. The board included another $445,705 project to retrofit the administration building with a heat pump system. The building is currently heated by an “inefficient” boiler loop, according to documents from IAWWTF’s oversight board shared with Common Council.

Replacing the boiler loop with a heat pump system, Gibson said, “makes economic sense” because it “should save energy.” 

“You can’t do that without looking at the roof, because now we’re cutting holes in the roof, which is also 37 years old,” Gibson said. “So, it’s a domino effect.”

State law requires a competitive bidding process to take place when municipalities seek contractors for public work that exceeds a monetary threshold of $35,000.

But the IAWWTF’s oversight board voted to recommend that the municipal boards of the City of Ithaca, in tandem with the towns of Ithaca and Dryden, “piggyback” on an existing contract that the Town of Greece previously reached with the HVAC and plumbing firm John W. Danforth Company, which would award that firm the whole $3.2 million contract.

According to the New York’s Office of the State Comptroller, piggybacking is an exception to the competitive bidding process outlined in state law that allows a municipality to bypass requesting proposals in a procurement process and use an already existing contract between a municipality and a vendor already selected through a competitive bidding process.

City Attorney Ari Lavine said during the meeting that piggybacking is “not super common,” but it is something that the city does “periodically on other municipal bidding processes, because it can expedite the bidding quite a bit.”

Jimmy Jordan is Senior Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn