In need of more space and upgraded facilities to handle its myriad responsibilities, the City of St. Petersburg recently awarded $8.2 million for construction of a new Water Resources Environmental Quality Lab, a facility that could withstand a Category 5 hurricane.
LEMA Construction and Developers submitted a bid to St. Petersburg City Council to build a new environmental test facility. The facility will measure approximately 11,643 square foot and be located east of the current one. Water ResourcesAdministrative Building at 1635rdAve. N. The existing laboratory will continue to be fully operational during construction.
John Stanley, environmental compliance manager, stated that the current lab was constructed in 1990 before modern building codes and is beginning to show its age.
“It’s 32 years old, and they started having some issues with it,” he said. “Primarily, leaky roofs, insufficient HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and one of the things thats important to get accurate results is to a have a controlled environment in terms of temperature, humidity and things like that.
Stanley explained that the city currently has three water reclamation facilities, a water plant, and several distribution lines to both the sewer system and the drinking water system. His department ensures that all systems comply with strict federal regulations, which have been expanded in scope. He stated that the Flint, Michigan drinking water crisis resulted in increased testing for lead and copper.
The current lab has a staff size of 12, which works seven days a week to analyze approximately 40,000 tests annually. Stanley stated that their jobs are vital to the safety and well being of the city. However, the public will only notice their work if there is a problem or a contamination order.
“They’re proud of what they do,” he said. “It’s a very dedicated staff, and they kind of work in the shadows.”
Stanley stated that the facility tests the surface water of St. Petersburg and the surrounding beaches. It also assists Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties’ water quality and environmental programs. The water resources department monitors industrial water quality and has a group that focuses on keeping grease and oil from clogging the city’s sewers.
“Having an internal laboratory enables us to get quicker and more accurate results,” he said.
Stanley stated that in 2017, a consulting company recommended expanding the lab from 6,000 to 8,000 square feet because there was not enough space to accommodate an increasing number of functions. This recommendation has been increased by approximately 50% with the new lab, which allows for further expansion. He added that another goal was to build a facility capable of withstand a Category-5 hurricane. This is because it is crucial for water quality monitoring and testing during a disaster that the lab remains functional.
Stanley said that the $8.2 million facility will include a commercial kitchen as part of a conscious effort to ensure that the water resources department is self-sufficient in the event of a major hurricane. The contractor will also install underground utilities.
He explained that part of it is to have a purpose-built facility that will help us meet our requirements. It is also to better serve our community.
It will be more efficient to have our entire group together in the new facility.
LEMA Construction & Developers, based in St. Pete, was the lowest responsible and responsive bidder. They narrowly beat Bandes Construction. In background documents, the city also cited LEMA’s experience constructing similar labs for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Florida Fish and Wildlife Hatchery and Advent Health as a deciding factor.
The city agreement states that the contractor will start work within 10 days of receiving a written Notice to proceed. The city expects the facility’s completion within 340 days after the notice, although Stanley noted that timeline seemed optimistic considering supply chain issues.