This is the third article in the three-part series Tips for a successful wastewater treatment plant upgrade. 

The articles in this series highlight the three key phases of a project and draw on proven lessons from a dozen of the successful wastewater treatment studies and projects that FCM's Green Municipal Fund (GMF) has funded.

In the first article in this series, we looked at best practices for project scoping and generating stakeholder engagement. The second article discussed how successful municipalities conducted their planning and design stage.

In this third and final article, we review the procurement, construction and start-up phase of the project and discuss four best practices to:

  • Follow flexible procurement practices that place a higher weight on quality and experience, since lower-cost bids do not necessarily result in lower-cost projects.
  • Communicate constantly and coordinate the activities of the stakeholders involved in the construction, operation and start-up of the project.
  • Prepare training and change management plans to support operations and maintenance staff after start-up.
  • Create detailed plans for testing and commissioning to ensure proper and continuous performance of the plant.  

Procurement, construction and start-up

Tip 1: Use flexible procurement processes

The best approach to selecting products, engineering consultants and service providers is a flexible, alternatives-to-lowest-bid procurement practice, such as Qualifications-based Selection (or QBS).

QBS is a competitive process for selecting a professional consulting firm based on their technical competence, experience with similar projects, personnel, local knowledge and availability. The municipality then negotiates the project schedule, budget and fees with the successful proponent. Selecting a consultant based on qualifications does not preclude consideration of price. It simply removes it from the consultant evaluation phase and introduces it after the scope of service has been determined. 

In our case studies, we saw three successful approaches to QBS procurement:  
Prequalify service providers and equipment based on quality
Save time by using a prequalification process to set the minimum quality of bids for selecting contractors, sub-consultants and/or equipment. In some cases, municipalities have Procurement By-laws which must be followed.

  • Use a quality-based selection process so that only contractors with extensive relevant experience can receive qualifying scores.
  • Preselect the equipment that will enable your municipality to use life-cycle cost analysis when comparing different suppliers.
  • Provide the scope of work, drawings, specs and Request for Proposal to suppliers so they can submit an expression of interest and prequalification form.

Use alternative service delivery
A conventional procurement approach typically involves hiring one firm to design the wastewater system and then a second firm to build it. In some cases, a third firm will be hired to operate the facility. Consider an alternative approach and seek a single bidder to either design and build (DB) or design, build and operate (DBO) the system.
Optimize project design and cost
Work with your successful bidders to see if changes in the project design or tender details could reduce the project cost without compromising its performance.

  • Present bidders with the opportunity to operate the facility and offset their upfront capital costs against future income, or to finance the project and make money on the investment.  The builder-operator will be more likely to choose the appropriate construction methods while keeping in mind the operating costs.
  • Work with the design/build team to determine what aspects of the project can be eliminated or modified without impacting the project goals.
  • Consider modifying the project schedule to reduce costs.  

Overall, it's important to evaluate the procurement options and select the ones that are most appropriate for your project and organization. Selecting the right method will also help you build a case for the decision makers so they understand the need for quality and don't automatically pick the lowest bid.

Learn what other municipalities have done

Read our case studies to see how Kapuskasing, ON, used a quality-based selection process for suppliers, Picton, ON, implemented a design-build contract and St. Andrews, NB, adjusted the project schedule to reduce costs. You may also want to consult the presentations on procurement, construction and start-up from our online workshop series on wastewater best practices.

Tip 2: Use effective communications and project management

Effective communication and project management are major success factors for your project. It is important to maintain constant communication and active coordination with all parties involved in the project design, construction and operation, including contractors, consultants, operators, city departments and decision makers.

Recommended communication tools and methods include:

  • Ongoing, transparent public engagement and communications through the municipal website, press releases and media events, open houses, newsletters, community events and social media.
  • Frequent, integrated project management meetings with all internal and external parties involved in the design, construction and operation to coordinate activities, proactively identify and address potential issues, and share project updates.
  • Regular reporting to council, funders and regulators on the status of the project. Some municipalities retain a project management firm to lead that process, which allows for a number of individuals to share their expertise.
  • Using experienced project managers, either from within the municipality or from an external project management firm.
  • Appointing a Project Champion to work with the design team, with broad authority for day-to-day decision making and to delegate authority to the senior administration to award contracts within pre-approved budgets.

Learn what other municipalities have done

Read our case studies to see how different approaches worked for two municipalities: Cranbrook, BC, appointed a Project Champion to lead a team of city staff, while Brockville, ON, retained a project management firm. Consult the presentations on procurement, construction and start-up from our online workshop series on wastewater best practices.

Tip 3: Develop a comprehensive training and change plan

The success of your state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, delivered on time and under budget, will depend on having qualified staff who know how to operate and maintain it. 

Prepare staff members to manage the new system by developing training materials and clear guidance. Start training your plant operators during the construction stage so that they are familiar with all the changes and requirements. Throughout this process, it is important to build a sense of ownership among operations staff and to share the rationale for adopting any new procedures.

  • Develop detailed databases, manuals and built drawings.
  • Involve operations staff in the design, construction and commissioning processes.
  • Develop training curriculum and change management plans.
  • If possible, make the operations manuals available electronically on tablets for the staff to carry with them as they are working around the plant, rather than consulting cumbersome paper manuals for technical details.
  • Update the operations and equipment manufacturer's product information as soon as updates are issued.

Learn what other municipalities have done

Read the case study on Amherstburg, ON, to see how operations staff benefit from using tablets to gain easy, timely access to the manuals they require. Consult the presentations on procurement, construction and start-up from our online workshop series on wastewater best practices.

Tip 4: Prepare detailed testing and commissioning work plans

Emphasize planning for testing and commissioning at the beginning of the project to minimize shutdowns and ensure performance. This is particularly important when dealing with the expansion of an existing facility that needs to keep operating during the testing phase.

  • Conduct constructability reviews to establish the appropriate sequencing to maintain continuous operations during an expansion.
  • Develop detailed work plans, complete with contingency planning, when taking major process units in and out of service.
  • Provide temporary facilities and/or controls as required for the continuous operation of the plant during construction.
  • Physically confirm the operability of any existing equipment, such as valves and gates that will be used for tie-ins and commissioning. If this equipment has been sitting idle, it may not function as required when needed.

Learn what other municipalities have done

Read the case studies on Barrie, ON, and Waterloo, ON, to understand how physically testing equipment and developing detailed work plans helped them ensure performance of their plants. Consult the presentations on procurement, construction and start-up from our online workshop series on wastewater best practices.

Checklist for a successful wastewater treatment plant upgrade

Use our project checklist to ensure you are addressing the key issues in every phase of your project.

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