The city of Springfield was founded in 1636, and while the wastewater pipes that are still used today aren’t that old, many of the city pipes date back to the late 1800’s.  

Springfield’s current pumping station was built in 1938, when Springfield and the surrounding cities and towns had much smaller populations. In order keep up with the growing population as well as environmental needs and concerns, the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission is taking on the region’s largest wastewater project in decades. 

Connecting Point‘s Brian Sullivan visited the York Street site for phase one of this immense undertaking. 

Read the full transcript:

Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: Somehow, construction turned out to be one of the few industries that survived the year of 2020. Sometimes it’s the type that’s nearly impossible to avoid while driving. And in others, it may be an enormous project that, for the most part, manages to avoid being a public spectacle.

The York Street Pump Station in Springfield falls into that category, partly due to its somewhat off-the-radar location. The overall cost, though, may not have been so easy to overlook.

Josh Schimmel, Springfield Water and Sewer Commission: Price tag of a project like this is one hundred and twenty million dollars. So probably, without a doubt, the biggest project we’ve undertaken as a Water and Sewer Commission, really, since everything has been built with federal money in the 70s. And this is one hundred percent funded through our rates.

Brian Sullivan: The new pump station project is only phase one in this three tiered endeavor. And while an undertaking like this will likely keep contractors and their crews employed for a good couple of years, workers at the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission could spend their entire careers just cleaning the miles of aging pipes that run throughout the city.

Jaimye Bartak, Springfield Water and Sewer Commission: There’s four hundred and seventy one miles of sewer collection system pipes, within just the city of Springfield, that the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission owns and maintains. And in order to be reactive, and make sure that we’re staying on top of any repairs or maintenance that needs to be done, we go through the entire system.

And so, our trucks are out there every single day, foot by foot, going through the entire system. It takes us about eight to 10 years to get through the whole thing. And then we start all over again.

Brian Sullivan: And whatever it is that flows through those pipes, will eventually find its way here. Since 1938, this small brick building on York Street in Springfield has been the centralized wastewater and sewer pumping station. And not only for Springfield, but for several of the surrounding cities and towns.

This project taking place in the adjacent lot will be a much more advanced version when it’s completed. While we were here in November, that work was taking place underground. Two stories underground.

This will eventually be home to three new outflow pipes that will provide flood control protection, as well as system redundancy to the two already-existing pipes. And again, this is just the first phase of this project. The next engineering task is to lay pipe beneath the railroad tracks here, before eventually tunneling under the entirety of the Connecticut River to the other side where the wastewater treatment plant is.

To be clear, it’s the entirety of the width of the river, not the length. But still, 1100 feet from there to here will be challenging enough. While crews on this side of the Connecticut Bondi’s Island prepare for that eventuality, the actual dredging out and tunneling across the river is the third phase and is still a ways down the road.

For now, the task at hand is completing the new pumping station. And it’s a task that seems even more imperative when words like “aging infrastructure” get tossed around.

Josh Schimmel: When we say aging infrastructure, that’s one piece of it that you see above ground. But, below ground you can see there’s pipes that go on to that pumping station that are from 1885 and that are in service right now.

Brian Sullivan: Back in 1938, when this structure was built, the volume of wastewater that passed underneath it wasn’t nearly what it is in these modern times of roughly 38 million gallons per day.

And since replacing all of the pipes that have crossed the century mark are among the 400 plus miles worth of them isn’t on the docket just yet, it underscores the importance of not only the eight to ten year cycle of keeping them cleaned out, but also for the public to be aware of what they should and should not put down their drains.

Jaimye Bartak: We also find sometimes balls of fat and grease that are coming from people’s kitchen drains. And we definitely encourage people not to pour grease down the drain for that reason, because a lot of things can stick to it, including wipes or paper towels or things that you generally shouldn’t flushed down the toilet. So, that’s why we’re going through it and cleaning it all that muck.