Needing more space and improved facilities to meet its myriad responsibilities, the city of St. Petersburg recently awarded $8.2 million for the construction of a new water resources environmental quality laboratory, a facility that could withstand a Category 5 hurricane.
St. Petersburg City Council recently approved a bid from LEMA Construction and Developers to construct a new, approximately 11,643 square foot environmental testing facility just east of the current Water Resources Administration Building at 1635 3rd Avenue N. The existing lab will remain fully operational during construction.
John Stanley, environmental compliance manager, said the current lab was built in 1990, before modern building codes, and is showing its age.
“He’s 32 and they started having problems with it,” he said. “Mainly leaky roofs, insufficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning)…and one of the important things to get accurate results is to have a controlled environment in terms of temperature, humidity, and humidity. things like that.”
Stanley explained that the city operates three water reclamation facilities, a drinking water plant and several distribution lines for the sewer and drinking water networks. His department ensures that all systems meet strict federal regulatory requirements, the scope of which has recently increased. He said the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan has prompted more testing for harmful metals like copper and lead.
The current lab has a staff of 12 who work seven days a week and analyze around 40,000 tests a year. Although their duties are essential to the safety and well-being of the city, Stanley said the public only notices their work if something is wrong or a contamination order is issued.
“They’re proud of what they do,” he says. “It’s a very dedicated staff, and they kind of work in the shadows.”
Stanley added that the facility is responsible for testing the surface waters of St. Petersburg and surrounding beaches. He also assists with water quality and environmental programs in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The Department of Water Resources monitors industrial water quality and dedicates a group to prevent oil and grease waste from local restaurants from clogging the city’s sewer system.
“Having an in-house lab allows us to get faster and more accurate results,” he said.
Stanley said that in 2017, a consulting firm recommended expanding the current lab from 6,000 to 8,000 square feet due to a lack of space needed for a growing range of functions. The new lab increases this recommendation by approximately 50%, allowing for further expansion. He said another goal was to build a facility capable of withstanding a Category 5 hurricane, noting the importance of the lab remaining fully functional to test and monitor water quality during a catastrophic storm.
The new $8.2 million facility will even include a commercial kitchen, Stanley said, as part of a conscientious effort to ensure the water resources department remains self-sufficient during a major hurricane. The contractor will also install new underground utilities.
“Part of that is having a facility specifically designed to help us meet our needs,” he said. “But it’s also… to better serve the community we protect.
“Having our whole group together (in the new facility) is going to make it more efficient.”
St. Pete-based LEMA Construction & Developers was the responsible and responsive lowest bidder for the project, narrowly beating Bandes Construction. In background documents, the city also cited LEMA’s experience building similar labs for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Florida Fish and Wildlife Hatchery and Advent Health as a deciding factor.
According to the city’s agreement, the contractor will begin work within 10 days of receiving written notice to proceed. The city expects the installation to be completed within 340 days of the notice, though Stanley noted the timeline seemed optimistic given supply chain issues.