HATFIELD — The town announced on Monday, March 4 that it was the receipt of a funding package through the United States Department of Agriculture to refurbish the town’s sewage treatment plant and related facilities. The total award for the Hatfield Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrades Project will be $12.029 million.

Waiting for the bids to come in for the project, town officials are a little nervous.
David Prickett of DPC Engineering LLC, consultant on the project, told the Select Board in February that the project is actively out for bidding. Sub-bids were opened on March 5 and general bids will be opened on March 20.

Prickett understands the nervousness of officials. It’s a big loan, the project is extensive and inflation sent prices higher over the last several years.

“We put this budget together early 2020, right before we went into the panic zone of COVID and such,” Prickett said. “Just understand that in the last three years we’ve seen annual increases in construction of 10% per year. I think it was 20% one year.”

The award includes both a $2.4 million grant from the USDA and a $9.491 million loan. The loan will have a 40 year term, required by the USDA, and an interest rate of 2.875%. The grant covering roughly 20% of project costs and the long term of the loan should mitigate the impact on taxpayers.

A Proposition 2½ override, approved by voters two years ago, will be tax paid by residents in addition to the town budget. At the time, Prickett offered a casual estimate that the average user of both sewer and water services would see a tax and user fee increase of about $300 per household, per year. The interest rate actually received for the loan is higher, but the ratio of loan to grant monies is similar, so the actual impact on household finances will be somewhat different.

The project will be an extensive makeover of Hatfield’s wastewater facilities. The headworks building, where solids and grit are screened out, will be replaced. Clarifier mechanisms, weirs, baffles, the screening system and washer-compactor will be all new. The chlorine gas disinfection system will be converted to a safer liquid hypochlorite system.

The project will also complete a water main extension to the treatment plant site. The well currently providing water to the plant is polluted and cannot be used for drinking. Two remote pumping stations will also receive new emergency generators.

Prickett is optimistic the project is still on track. “The project remains on budget as appropriated by the residents a couple years back.”

Town Administrator Marlene Michonski was instrumental in securing financing for the project. She lauded Prickett as very knowledgeable of the process and well seasoned in working with the USDA. Michonski appreciated that DPC Engineering anticipated all the information the federal agency would request.

“It’s been a very good experience,” Michonski said. “Documents and documents and documents. Unbelievable.”

Prickett altered the company’s usual procedures for the Hatfield project. Instead of a base bid only, or a base bid for services and a sub-bid, Prickett structured the public call with one base bid and four or five sub-bids. That will facilitate a ranking of add-ons and alternates that together may push the budget past the $12 million limit.

According to the engineer, the town does not want to go back for a second bite of the apple, another debt override, a tough sell to voters at Town Meeting. The sub-bids will allow the town to more easily pick and choose among the options. What is actually affordable will not be clear until the submitted bids and sub-bids are opened.

The next decisions, Prickett said, are what to do with the cash flow coming to the town and how short term interest will be paid.

Prickett sought to reassure Select Board members the bidding process will draw sufficient interest. Board member Edmund Jaworski commented there were three contractors and six or eight subcontractors at a meeting to introduce the project to interested bidders.

“You really want to see the electrical, that’s the big one,” Prickett said, noting that a pre-bid for that part of the work has already been received. “We have a base bid for electrical and head work.”

Jaworski appreciated the project is finally moving into a new phase. He also seemed to take in stride the risk that the project will exceed the secured financing.

“That’s always the fear,” Jaworski said. “By the time we go to get the bids it’s been three years. Have you missed out on anything? Is it going to cost more? That’s always the worry.”

Work on the project will begin later this spring and take as much as two years to complete.

dpruyne@thereminder.com | + posts