Crooked Creek Wastewater Reclamation Facility Improvements
A Fresh Start
Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources (DWR) manages a series of reclamation facilities that collect wastewater coming from homes and businesses and discharge the treated effluent back into county waterways. When the department determined that a new operations center and maintenance facility were needed at their Crooked Creek Wastewater Reclamation Facility (located in the northern Atlanta suburb of Peachtree Corners), they called upon long-standing partner GS&P to provide architecture, interior design and civil engineering services for the comprehensive improvement project.
“Crooked Creek WRF had been in operation since 1972, and the existing buildings on-site had become obsolete and presented an outdated image,” explains senior water resources engineer Mark Hellerstedt. “The operations building was aging and too small for the owner’s needs. It was also difficult to access and didn’t provide the advanced equipment and technological capabilities demanded by such a facility today. The client wanted a building that not only looked modern, but supported the staff’s various responsibilities.”
With a number of process buildings being utilized for both storage and maintenance (preventing them from being used as originally intended) the client also desired a new maintenance facility that consolidated all major storage into a single, centralized, on-site location, and provided a spacious and accessible area to perform maintenance.
Building for the Future
To make way for the new operations center and maintenance facility, two existing structures had to be demolished from the 45-acre site. Senior construction engineer Jeff Behel explains:
“The previous buildings were simply antiquated, so those two components were taken out of the network to build the new facilities. Configuring the new buildings on a site that had already been developed was a complicated process due to a number of factors, including a myriad of existing pipes. It involved daily, and sometimes hourly coordination between all parties.”
“One of our key objectives was ensuring the plant remained operational throughout this process,” notes water resources engineer Bridget Shealy. “You never know when you might get a heavy rain and have to service 20 million gallons of water. So we had to make sure the plant stayed online while we were taking certain parts and pieces out of service. This came with some challenges, but we successfully met this goal, keeping the plant fully active and engaged around the clock.”
“We used the vocabulary of the existing headworks building—especially the materials and palette—to design both the operations center and maintenance facility,” adds architect Tim Anson. “We toured a similar facility and met with the client several times to discuss functional relationships, and then came back with plans and presentations that the client liked.”
The design team chose similar materials for both buildings’ exterior design, including traditional brick, cast stone, split-face block, and aluminum storefront. The operations center has a gabled roof and cruciform layout that reflect the past and honor the facility’s history, while a large expanse of glass on the south façade creates a more contemporary image for the plant’s campus centerpiece. The maintenance facility’s exterior design features the same primary materials that were used in the operations building. A tall parapet conceals a single-slope roof, and cast-stone accents at the corners reflect motifs used on the operations center.
The new 12,000-square-foot operations center houses a large training room, various support spaces, and a state-of-the-art control room. The steep terrain of the site dictated that the building would be two stories on the south side, and a single story on the north side. The main entrance and lobby, which run north-south, account for the tallest volume of space. The offices, control room, conference rooms and breakrooms are all located along the south façade, allowing views onto the rest of the plant. This placed support functions on the building’s north wall, while the training room and lab were situated on the west side.
The operations center was designed to be easily accessible and welcoming, with a high-volume lobby that provides direct access to all other spaces throughout the building. A minimal design aesthetic and cool palette with colorful accents gives the impression of a clean and modern facility. The main feature wall, cladded in reclaimed wood, creates a connection between the upper and lower levels while also exaggerating the height of the space. Poured resinous flooring features an undulating graphic element mimicking the flow of water, which curves through the lobby and into the control room.
“The new operations center really improves the workplace experience for employees,” notes Anson. “Most plants aren’t this modern or open. They’re closed off and dark. Crooked Creek’s new space looks more like a spacious and open office building. A nice feature is the exterior balcony that wraps around the southern end of the building and provides a place for staff to get fresh air and take a break.”
The new 14,500-square-foot maintenance facility houses an on-site maintenance and repair shop equipped with modern machinery, and provides ample storage space for chemicals and materials.
“Maintenance functions that were previously spread out among three different buildings are now centrally housed in one place,” says Anson.
“By having a fully functional maintenance building on-site, equipment doesn’t have to be shipped out to a welding shop or other repair facility. Staff can use their skills in-house to do the work,” adds Behel.
Like the operations center, the maintenance facility’s interior is bright, open and functional. Clean, white walls and the building structure allow items such as crane rails, piping and bollards to stand out and be easily identified.
“All of their equipment requires preventive maintenance once or twice a year,” says Shealy. “A lot of plants can’t keep up with that, which shortens the lifespan of the equipment. In this case, allowing staff to service the machinery on-site keeps the plant in shape and adds to the facility’s longevity and economic efficiency.”
Better Technology, Better Control
GS&P’s overhaul included the most advanced digital control systems and visual overhead displays in the industry, a vast improvement over Crooked Creek’s existing operations center that was still running on analog controls. The control room is now equipped with the necessary data and monitoring capabilities for staff to survey the entire plant from a single command center.
“There had always been alarms on certain components of the water treatment process, but if valves weren’t opening or closing, staff wouldn’t realize it until water levels changed, or flows didn’t respond as expected,” says Behel. “We provided an ideal scenario where workers can monitor the entire plant right from their desk, and at the same time see the equipment run status on the display screens.”
“We also provided upgraded supervisory control to monitor and control all the systems and processes across the plant,” adds Shealy. “Instead of having to pull samples on foot, staff can now measure oxygen levels and flow rates automatically. They will still need to go outside to verify results, but instead of having to visit each basin, there are now probes in place that measure pH levels, temperature, oxygen—all the variables that ensure optimal functioning.”
“The advanced digital controls mean fewer people are needed to run the plant, which is an added economic benefit,” adds Behel. “The system promptly alerts to issues so that operators can make rapid adjustments. Enhanced monitoring means better control of discharges to the environment and increased efficiency for the plant as a whole.”
Sustainability and Responsible Site Development
Gwinnett County’s sustainability policy requires all occupied buildings larger than 5,000 square feet to achieve LEED Silver certification. To this end, the design and construction teams employed several interior and exterior strategies to reduce energy and material use, lower maintenance and life-cycle costs, and provide a healthier environment for the occupants.
“Sustainability is part of GS&P’s core values,” notes Shealy, “and recycled and reclaimed materials formed a significant part of our design strategy. For example, we used reclaimed wood to create a two-story feature wall in the lobby space of the operations center that creates a really unique sculptural element.”
Augmenting energy efficiency, diffuse light from clerestory windows in the maintenance facility creates a constantly-lit environment, reducing the need for overhead lighting.
Due to its function as a wastewater treatment plant, responsible site development was also an important sustainability factor in the engineering and design process. Both new buildings were kept a minimum of 1 foot above the 500-year flood plain elevation, and GS&P kept any new development out of the 100-year flood plain and the Crooked Creek stream buffer.
“A major component of environmental stewardship is managing stormwater runoff on the site,” says Shealy. “Whenever you add concrete or other impervious surfaces, you’re restricting water absorption and allowing water to run off, which can cause flooding and erode stream banks.”
Stormwater that might come into contact with hazardous materials was contained with drain piping routed back to the sanitary sewer. GS&P also created an erosion and sediment control plan to ensure that best practices were incorporated into the site.
“We had limited space for retention ponds on the existing site, so it was complicated fitting them in,” says Shealy. “We also added bioretention areas, in which water passes through a bioswale of soil and leaves to catch metals, solids and dirt.”
Essential Community Service
The Crooked Creek Wastewater Reclamation Facility improvement project was completed on an aggressive timetable—six months for design and 24 months for construction. GS&P played an important role in helping the Gwinnett County DWR improve their processes in order to operate more efficiently and meet the needs of their community. The new leading-edge facilities blend in with the surrounding campus while infusing new life and operational effectiveness into the plant.
“It’s gorgeous for a wastewater treatment plant,” says Shealy. “The previous administration building was dismal and cramped, and its design dated back to the 1970s. This new building is something they can be proud of. Often, a community isn’t even aware of their wastewater reclamation facility unless there’s a flood or something else goes wrong with water processing. Now, the client can invite the public to the plant to learn about the process and appreciate the money and energy spent to avoid polluting the environment.”
“We impressed the client with our ability to utilize multiple disciplines in different offices, demonstrating our strengths in each area and operating together seamlessly,” says Anson. “The client was proud of the project, which came together beautifully.”
“The management loves the new buildings, and employees from other plants have requested to be transferred there, or at least to have their offices in the new facility,” notes Behel. “Their offices could easily be at a central facility, but they want to be at Crooked Creek. That speaks volumes.”