Blue Bell Creameries


Broken Arrow, OK


Architecture, Engineering

Producing approximately 110,000 half gallons, 120,000 pints and 30,000-dozen cups of ice cream a day, Blue Bell Creameries manufacturing facility in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, is a major regional supplier of ice cream and frozen desserts and an important part of the local economy. Due to explosive growth in demand, Blue Bell Creameries had to increase production and ultimately change the way they manage their wastewater discharge to achieve compliance.

Our Water + Environment and Industrial markets joined forces to guide our longstanding client of 25 years through a number of complex challenges—including assistance with consent order negotiations, validation of new treatment processes through a pilot study, and the final commissioning and acceptance of a new pretreatment facility that would be operated and managed by Blue Bell Creameries staff with help from Gresham Smith.

years working together
state-of-the-art pretreatment facility

The Inside Scoop: A Collaborative Effort

A hallmark of the project is not only Gresham Smith’s collaboration with Blue Bell Creameries but also the multimarket effort across our Water + Environment and Industrial markets during the three-year project to bring our collective expertise to the client. Blue Bell Creameries placed their trust in Gresham Smith early in the project to develop the best course of action to meet their wastewater management requirements.

“Blue Bell is known for their expertise in ice cream manufacturing, not wastewater management. So, we served as their advocate, guiding them with their consent order negotiations with the City and charting a course for them toward full compliance,” says Randy Booker, senior vice president of Gresham Smith’s Water + Environment market.

“Blue Bell wanted to be proactive and truly own this project. They didn’t want to simply have someone design them a new pretreatment facility and then contract out the management and operation of it—they wanted to run it. Even though their staff wasn’t trained in wastewater management, they were ready to jump in and learn in order to support the new process and facility on their site. And we were ready to help them.”

a photo of the Blue Bell team collaborating
Collaboration sessions throughout the conceptual phase, design, and construction allowed our team to learn about Blue Bell Creameries facility operations and decide how to deliver an optimal solution for the Broken Arrow plant.

Getting Straight to the Pint

To prove that the new technology could meet wastewater treatment objectives, Gresham Smith conducted a monthlong pilot program at the facility. The pilot identified design and operation parameters and introduced Blue Bell Creameries staff to the technology, giving them the opportunity to run and manage the new equipment at a small-scale test level. The experience and training gained by the operations staff during the pilot program would prove invaluable during the full-scale startup and operation of the new pretreatment facility.

“We systematically started with the on-site pilot study in which we created a small version of the new pretreatment plant to ‘test drive it,’” notes Booker. “We even designed a lab for staff and showed them how to perform analyses and monitor and manage the process. From the onset, Blue Bell took a hands-on ownership approach, which was a key factor in the success of the project because it set the stage for staff to take on management of the full-scale facility.”

image of Blue Bell pilot study
A pilot study was conducted at the facility to prove the technology could meet treatment objectives, to identify design and operation parameters, and to introduce Blue Bell Creameries staff to the equipment.

A Showcase of Industrial Pretreatment

The new pretreatment facility was delivered in a highly collaborative design-build arrangement with longtime partner Brasfield & Gorrie, providing opportunities for value engineering and customizing the system to meet Blue Bell Creameries needs and preferences. The entire pretreatment system, including a 160,000-gallon equalization tank, was located inside a building to mitigate odors and to screen the system from the adjacent highway.

“Since aesthetics and presentation to passersby was critical to Blue Bell, we designed the new facility so all the components were indoors, which added to the overall complexity of the design,” notes senior architect Jennifer Carr.

The system now serves as a showpiece of industrial pretreatment at the Broken Arrow plant, with the City conducting tours of the facility and featuring it on their water resources website.

The new pretreatment facility features a customized layout designed for flexibility and ease of operation. The arrangement of the equipment and piping was collaboratively designed between our Water + Environment and Industrial teams, Brasfield & Gorrie and Blue Bell Creameries.

An innovative factor in the treatment system design is a large equalization capacity equipped with both aeration and mechanical mixing, which, coupled with a pH adjustment system, allows wastewater to homogenize and achieve optimal pH for subsequent treatment. From the equalization tank, treatment takes place in a state-of-the-art DAF (Dissolved Air Flotation) system that was tested during the pilot program and proved effective for Blue Bell Creameries wastewater needs. Treatment residuals are stored in a custom-designed system that allows operators to hold and decant water from the waste, reducing sludge-hauling frequency and costs.

Sweet Success!

Since startup, the new pretreatment facility has not only met Blue Bell Creameries performance goals but has also brought the ice cream manufacturer into 100% compliance with the City of Broken Arrow’s wastewater discharge permit, supporting the long-term success of the operation and Blue Bell Creameries commitment to being a good corporate citizen, environmental steward and community partner.

“It’s awesome to have a client who trusts you to do new things over time. This was a different project type for our Industrial team in that we went from designing distribution branches for Blue Bell to working at their wastewater treatment plant. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to collaborate closely with the experts in our Water + Environment group, and it’s exciting to take that collective knowledge into future projects,” concludes Carr.

Working with Gresham Smith and their team was flawless. While we’re experts at making ice cream, we were unfamiliar with wastewater management and didn’t realize how much in-depth science was truly involved in wastewater treatment. We would have never been able to design a pretreatment facility like this, work with the City, stay within compliance, and be as efficient as we are now if we hadn’t enlisted the experience and expertise of the Gresham Smith team. Marty Kilgore General Manager, Blue Bell Creameries, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma