By Bob Quackenbush, Scott Linke & Jim Kalishman
In a city where nearly every block is literally a historical landmark or tourist attraction, Washington, D.C.’s sewer system faced the challenge of performing much-needed repairs while maintaining business as usual in our nation’s Capitol.
Most people in construction understand the demands of working in a major city with hustle and bustle, congestion, and extreme logistical requirements, but add in the factor that it’s the home of the United States government and things can rise to another level.
Trying to get such powerful stakeholders to agree, such as The Architect of the Capitol, the Capitol Police, the House of Representatives, the House of Delegates, the Department of Justice, the City Council, and many other key organizations, is extremely difficult. All these factors make any type of construction done in Washington, D.C., both an interesting challenge and potentially very costly.
In addition to the logistical hurdles, Washington, D.C.’s sewage system is one of the oldest systems in the United States, predating the Civil War. Construction began in 1810, with separate sewers and culverts pulling water away from the streets as the city and nation grew up around it. At the turn of the century, significant upgrades to the sewer system continued but as one can imagine, a system that is now more than two centuries old starts to develop a problem or two. Whatever the solution, either replacement or rehabilitation, it would take a delicate process to ensure our nation’s most historically significant streets were properly preserved.
The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), the agency that provides drinking water, sewage collection, and sewage treatment in Washington, D.C., had identified a specific issue in the lines surrounding the Capitol building. After a bid process, SAK Construction LLC was awarded the project. Headquartered in the St. Louis area but with a regional office in Baltimore, just outside Washington D.C., SAK is an industry leader in trenchless technology and has extensive experience with challenging CIPP projects.
While the project would present many operational challenges, coordinating with all of the aforementioned stakeholders, communicating with them to provide an understanding of the CIPP process and what is needed to complete the project, while performing the already challenging task of lining nearly 6,000 lf of 38- to 42-in. brick sewers that were constructed in the early 1900s. This particular series of sewers started at the iconic Reflecting Pool in front of the Capitol Building and continued southeast past the United States Botanic Garden and the Rayburn Building, then continuing on to the Main Street Pump Station on the Anacostia River.
Due to the location in the heart of D.C. The work hours were restricted to nights and weekends only. To make matters more complicated, the work was scheduled to be performed from October through January — the Holiday Season — when the event calendar is at its busiest and the weather is at its worst.
With a project that involves so many different agencies, effective communication was a vital component for a successful project. However, with this specific project, communications, creativity and PATIENCE (with a sense of urgency) would prove to be paramount for success.
In the years prior to the selection of SAK Construction via a low bid selection process, DC Water had worked with agencies like the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), National Park Service (NPS), and the City Council to try to better alert them as to the permitting requests that would be upcoming.
While this initially was a good process, turnover in government and public agencies created some significant disconnects when attendees had moved on, were promoted, or re-election had replaced them. These meetings did, however, identify critical areas and times where and how the work should be performed. These outcomes were then used to develop the specifications for the project.
From there, the project began to take shape starting by selecting the specific product to satisfy the needs of DC Water requirements, fitting into working windows provided by the stakeholders, and putting exact schedules to an inherently imprecise process. Once the design parameters were agreed upon by DC Water, SAK was able to design CIPP liners using multiple different material types and resin combinations that could be installed with existing access and within the working hours provided.
Due to the high-profile nature of this project, constant communication was critical to the execution of day-to-day activities. From the start, onsite meetings were held with each entity to introduce the expert SAK representative that would be coordinating the upcoming work and to identify potential issues. For example, it was not known to the contractor or DC Water at the time of bid that the Botanical Gardens waters its plants every morning and any residual water is pumped into the sewer. This type of sewer connection is more challenging to address than a gravity line connected only to the sanitary facilities.
From that initial meeting, the clients quickly understood that they were an important partner in delivering a successful and safe project. What began as a weekly meeting, soon turned into daily updates and upcoming event calendars from all parties was provided to SAK. Ultimately, SAK created schedules that worked around the weekend events, such as those at the Botanical Gardens for Halloween, Thanksgiving, the lighting of the Christmas tree, the swearing-in ceremony, the arrival of the newly elected Congress and Senate, and the Christmas and New Years’ holidays.
Much like the work that goes on above the ground in Washington, D.C.’s hallowed halls, there is often much compromise that needs to come to fruition before work is completed. While the project was filled with many “loopholes” and “filibusters,” at the end of the day SAK ran a successful campaign and possibly scored some points toward “re-election.”