Price tag spikes for Largo wastewater plant project

This rendering shows a completed operations building at the wastewater treatment plant in Largo. The facility will consist of a three-story, 13,187-square-foot hardened building that can accommodate laboratory staff and plant operators after a storm.

LARGO — A project at the wastewater treatment plant that once was estimated to cost $4 million could now cost more than double that, city commissioners learned Aug. 6 during a meeting at City Hall. 

The two-phase project aims to replace and reinforce the approximately 40-year-old operations building and laboratory so that the structure, which city staff said is essential to treatment plant operations, could survive a Category 5 hurricane.

The facility will consist of a three-story, 13,187-square-foot hardened building that can accommodate laboratory staff and plant operators after a storm.

Commissioners voted 7-0 on Aug. 6 to move forward with construction after approving the Belleair-based Biltmore Construction firm’s guaranteed maximum price of $8.35 million.

Facilities Manager Mark Meyers said $1.25 million of the price increase was a result of hardening the building to survive a Category 5 storm rather than the original plan based on a Category 3 storm. That would have brought the project to $5.25 million. The remainder of the spike, he said, is a result of escalating construction costs. 

“One of the things we’ve heard throughout this process is that, since the recession, construction prices in the country have just skyrocketed,” he said. “They’ve talked about a 20% increase over the last four years. We’ve used what we thought was a conservative number of 11% based on the state of Florida. So … over the course of the last three years in the design, the project has risen $2,719,000.”

He said that a nearly $400,000 contingency fund put the total over the $8 million mark, adding that the difference in funds from the $5.25 million estimate will come from wastewater fund general reserves.

Commissioner Michael Smith said that in future cases, he hopes staff will keep commissioners in the loop on such large price increases.

City Manager Henry Schubert agreed that the commission should be informed sooner. 

“On these types of projects, as we get into the design process, sometimes we find that our cost estimates aren’t accurate,” he said. “And if there’s a significant deviation, we need to bring that to the City Commission during the design process, not toward the end of the process.”

Facility upgrades

Meyers said the 545-day project will be conducted in two phases — construction of the new building and demolition of the old ones. 

Besides its enhanced durability, the new building will be a substantial improvement, he said.

The ground floor will include electric vehicle charging stations, prep rooms and a mud room where staff can wash off and eliminate possibilities of contamination, which is something they don’t have now. 

On the second floor, which is 24 feet above sea level, staff will have an operations lab, and the third floor will feature a nutrient lab that includes a microbiology wet lab.

The facility will also have separate air conditioning systems so they don’t cross-contaminate labs and a deionization water system to purify water in the lab.

In other news

The Largo Police Department will continue to provide school resource officers to Advantage Academy of Pinellas and Pinellas Preparatory Academy after commissioners signed off on an agreement for the upcoming school year. The department has assigned one reserve officer to serve at each school, which will each pay the city $70,809.