Workers at the Division of Pure Waters Collection Section squeeze by a utility truck to do paperwork while another worker was cutting wood to fix a trailer.Jim Franco / Spotlight News
COLONIE —Walk through the door of what is now the Pure Waters Collection Section home base, and you could see one man cutting a piece of wood to repair a trailer and another sitting at a card table trying to concentrate on his daily paperwork.
If would not be unusual either if the latter was wearing a mask because the two-bay garage where Pure Waters field crew have set up is full of dust. Thanks, in no small part, to the guy working on the trailer or another worker working on other piece of equipment on any given day.
But, the guy doing the paperwork seemed used to using a pen and paper alongside another guy using a circular saw.
After a short while, he wasn’t alone inside the metal building at the Public Operations Center complex at the intersection of Old Niskayuna and Wade roads. At shift change on any given day, there are up to a dozen guys working elbow to elbow on filling out the daily logs. They minded the guy with the saw about as much as he minded them because he kept cutting as they kept writing. There was a fan attached to a tube that was running out an open door to blow the dust out of the room. It might have actually helped, or maybe it was just for peace of mind.
All the while, there is a truck, the on call utility truck, taking up one bay of the garage forcing workers to walk sideways to get around it to the card tables before squeezing into a metal folding chair to complete the required paperwork.
That scenario is an everyday occurrence, said Chretien Voerg, the superintendent of the Pure Waters Department during a recent tour of the place. And that is why he is asking the town to come up with up to $6.9 million to build a new operations center for the crew that runs half the sewer department’s operation.
This section is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the huge sewer network that all covers 57 square miles of town and includes 407 miles of mains pipe lines, 30 pumping stations, 9,500 manhole covers, 25,000 connections all serving more than 80,000 people.
If the town opts to spend the maximum allowable under the unanimous Town Board resolution, the sewer bill for the owner of an average single family home will increase $13.48 a year, from $287.39 to $300.87, or about $1.12 per month, until the 30-year bond is paid off.
The project has two main goals, Voerg said. The first is to have the supervisors who work in another portion of the Public Operations Center, be in the same location as the workers. It stands to reason better communication and face-to-face interaction will increase productivity.
The second is more practical and more critical. The equipment needed to maintain the system 24 hours a day/seven days a week include high-pressure vacuum equipment, closed circuit television systems, dump trucks, excavation equipment, pumping trailers, and utility trucks. In addition, an array of supplies and safety equipment are necessary on a day to day basis and when emergencies inevitably come about.
Right now the department has equipment stored in five different locations throughout town and in the event of an emergency, crews first have to go get the necessary equipment then address whatever situation that arose be it a sewer line break or a sewer overflow.
“It increases our response time when we have an emergency so by consolidating our operations will significantly reduce our response time,” he said.
The Public Operations Center was built in 1993 with the intent of consolidating all the public works type departments in one spot, making it easier for residents to acquire permits and/or information about such things.
“At the time, only two garage bays were allocated for the entire Pure Waters Collection operations,” Voerg said. “The facilities department has their own garage. The Water Department has their own garage. The Highway Department has two garages. And we are operating out of two bays.”
And those two bays are not long enough to handle some of the more critical equipment, like pressure washing trucks, and as described above, it’s not just the hands on work being done there. It’s where daily logs are kept and where workers punch in and out, where they have lunch and often times it’s right next to not just trailers and trucks but sewage laden equipment.
There are 33 people who work in Pure Waters with 15 people working in the collection department and two supervisors with the remaining working at the treatment plan on Onderdonk Road.
CHA conducted a feasibility and came up with a plan to build an 11,325-square-foot building at the Public Operations Center that would have five garage bays, two having a hoist system and mezzanine to load and unload supplies. Included in the building will be offices, work stations, a lunch room and space for storage.
“This is a large project but very much needed. To continue on for a long period of time as it is right now is not acceptable,” said Supervisor Paula Mahan. “This is basically the report we need to continue to keep moving forward in the process and we will know better what the cost will be once the bids come in. We hope it will come in a little lower but when you say it’s a garage it’s a little misleading. It is really an operations center where everyone will be working out of.”
Voerg said the first two scenarios were too expensive and he didn’t bother bringing them to the board for consideration. The report by CHA is a conceptual design, he said, that will be refined and solidified as the process continues. He does expect the final price tag to be lower than what the board approved. The Town Board will
“The next step will be to secure an architect and engineer to actually develop it and do design drawings,” he said. “As we start the design process, we can start identifying the materials and construction and how many yards of concrete we’re going to need. Then, that number will be more refined. Once we actually go out to bid, we will know for sure [the cost.]”
“This has been on our list of needs for a long time and at this point in time, with the number of staff and equipment we have, it is something we need to do our job and something the town needs,” he said. “Our goal is to provide a minimal impact to our customers but provide increases in efficiency and effectiveness and production. If our staff have all the resources at their fingertips we will get more work done in a day. We are hoping out customers will see an increase in our productivity in the small increase in pay.”
Members of the Town Board toured the existing facility and some were surprised at the working conditions.
“It’s pretty astonishing where those people work. It’s not very nice,” said Town Board member Linda Murphy. “One of the gentlemen was filing something to repair a piece of equipment and everybody who was sitting at card tables, doing their end of the day reports, had masks on. It’s not a very pleasant place and we certainly are in need of doing something like this.”
“It was eye opening to see the conditions under which these people work,” added Town Board member Jill Penn. “I wouldn’t expect to see folks having to work on card tables in an area where someone is also conducting work on equipment at the same time. It is certainly not an ideal work environment and I certainly support this initiative.