By Mary Spicer
The process of replacing the reservoir that keeps the City of Meadville, Vernon Township Water Authority and customers in Vernon, Woodcock and West Mead township supplied with water took a step forward when Project Manager Don Nold of Meadville Area Water Authority gave the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission an outline of the MAWA’s preliminary game plan for replacing the historic reservoir.
During the commission’s recent monthly meeting, questions centered on the future of H.P. Way Park, which shares a portion of the MAWA’s four-acre property on the northeast corner of Highland Avenue and Limber Road with the reservoir, and whether a new storage facility couldn’t simply be constructed in a less-visible location.
At this point, the exact location of the tanks is still contingent on the result of a geotechnical subsurface investigation now under way to determine whether the ground is physically capable of supporting two tanks containing a total of 5 million gallons of water. That report is expected to be complete within the next two months.
If the site is suitable, design work should be complete by September and if all proceeds as planned, the current park will be a construction site until the fall of 2014.
If it’s not suitable, it won’t be easy — or inexpensive — to find an alternative.
The city’s entire water system has been constructed to handle the flow of water coming from that reservoir — at that height and in that location. As Nold puts it, the one thing to understand about the entire system is this: Water flows downhill.
Although not all the water in the system flows directly to its final destination from the reservoir, it all goes there first, after being pumped from the MAWA’s Vernon Township wells, which pump on a schedule designed to keep the reservoir at an optimal level to maintain consistent pressure throughout the system.
At an elevation of 1,360 feet, the reservoir supplies water directly to some customers in its pressure zone such as William Gill Commons and Meadville Medical Center’s Liberty Street and Grove Street facilities.
According to a distribution schematic provided by Nold, after flowing down to the Hillcrest Pump Station’s 1,252-foot elevation, reservoir water is pumped up to the Hillcrest tank’s 1,550-foot elevation, from where it flows down to customers in its pressure zone including Neason Hill School in West Mead Township, and the high school-rec complex area.
From its 1,674-foot elevation, the Limber Road tank, which receives its water from the reservoir through the Limber Road pump station, serves customers including the north end of Meadville, Wesbury, The Country Club and Crawford County Fairgrounds.
Logistically and financially speaking, there are huge advantages to keeping the system’s storage facility in approximately the same location and at the same elevation as the reservoir, according to Nold.
Planning for the park
Concerns about the future of the park were raised by neighborhood resident and Tribune Executive Editor Pat Bywater. Pointing out that the project could eliminate the only public park in the city’s north end, Bywater said that he hopes MAWA will take aesthetics into consideration — and that residents of the neighborhood will have some input on the landscaping plan. “This may be too soon,” he said, “but I don’t want to be too late. I want a design plan that will benefit both the neighborhood and Allegheny College.”
“During construction, the park won’t be there,” Nold said. And once the new tanks are in place, extremely preliminary plans call for them to be surrounded by security lighting and a security fence. “I would prefer to not have plantings,” he said.
MAWA has legally owned the property since July 1992; the city retained surface rights to the property when ownership was transferred to MAWA. As part of the agreement signed in connection with the sale, “the parties agree to consult and to reasonably cooperate to accommodate the continued use thereof for water and for recreational, target composting or park purposes.” According to the agreement, if the consulting and cooperating result in a structure being removed or relocated, it must be done at MAWA’s expense.
“MAWA replaces ‘as-is,’” Nold explained.
“This is what you have right now,” he continued as commission members looked at color photographs of the swing set, two play areas, tennis/basketball court, bicycle rack and pavilion now in place, as well as a park storage building on the site that is currently not used and disconnected water service pipes. “Is this what you want to have in the future?”
Enter consultation and cooperation.
In January, City Manager Joe Chriest said that the city is still researching the deeds originally transferring property at the site to the city to see if there are any restrictions on the use of the land. At the time, Chriest said that the uncertain future of the park will not have any impact on MAWA’s ability to proceed with the project.
“This is not an issue that we’ve talked about at council,” Mayor Christopher Soff said Monday. “We’re still waiting on the final comprehensive plan report that will give us the road map for the direction that Meadville stakeholders have told the city that they want the city to pursue in years to come. Once we’ve seen that, then we can evaluate our position on outdoor parks like the one at H.P. Way.”
The update of the city’s comprehensive plan is now in the final editing phase and is expected to be presented by the commission to council for approval in the near future.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.