Alternative Delivery Method is a Win-Win for City of Baltimore, Residents, and Waterways

July 13, 2021

Public Works Projects at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant

Clark and Joint Venture Partner Complete Baltimore’s First Successful Construction Manager-at-Risk Procurement 

Clark Construction and joint venture partner Ulliman Schutte, working with the City of Baltimore, have set the successful standard for public works projects at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, delivering vital infrastructure upgrades, sustainable treatment processes, and the protection of local waterways. The project was constructed under the Baltimore’s first ever construction manager at-risk (CMAR) procurement, a drastic change in the way the city has conducted business for more than a century.

Originally built in 1907, the 446-acre Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant operates 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, and treats 180 million gallons per day (MGD) of wastewater from Baltimore City and County, serving an estimated 1.3 million residents. The $429-million improvements project eliminates more than 80 percent of the volume of sewage overflowing the city’s aged sanitary sewer system to improve water quality in streams, the Baltimore Harbor, and the Chesapeake Bay. Designed by Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson (JMT) and constructed by Clark/Ulliman Schutte, the project replaced the plant’s existing headworks to increase influent capacity by 315% to 752 million gallons per day. The project also improved screening facilities, pumping stations, and the grit removal process.

Replacing this aging element of Baltimore’s infrastructure has long been on the city’s agenda. The long-awaited Headworks project was advertised for bid once previously in 2015, and the City of Baltimore received competitive lump sum bids that were 30% over budget. As a result, the Board of Estimates, the City of Baltimore’s governing body, elected to proceed with an innovative approach – to procure the Headworks project under the city’s first ever CMAR procurement.

As part of this effort, Clark/Ulliman Schutte performed a preconstruction design and constructability review to develop design alternatives and bring the project within budget while meeting an immovable deadline. This project development work ultimately resulted in a design that met the city’s programmatic requirements as well as target budget. The Clark/Ulliman Schutte team recommended scaling back the number of grit and fine screen facility channels and reconfiguring the treatment process to send excess storm flows directly from the Influent Pump Station (IPS) to the Equalization Storage Tanks. The project also forwent the construction of an emergency power facility by harnessing an independent third electrical feed that was already being procured by the City of Baltimore under separate contract.

The CMAR agreement also enabled Clark/Ulliman Schutte to prequalify trade contractors and tailor packages to fit the availability and skills of the local market. The team interviewed and selected trade contractors based on their ability to deliver within a tight schedule and budget – not simply on lowest bid price. Clark/Ulliman Schutte also exceeded its goals for participation from diverse business enterprises, executing more than $58 million in contracts to minority-owned businesses and $24 million to woman-owned firms.

Clark/Ulliman Schutte began planning for commissioning and start-up a year and a half in advance. The City of Baltimore’s existing Back River operations and maintenance staff were brought into the process early on to provide input regarding plant operations. The joint venture team implemented three phases of testing for piping and equipment coordination, as well as controls integration. Clark/Ulliman Schutte operated the pumps in a closed, clean water loop to allow the City to become trained and familiar with the new systems prior to the introduction of sewage.

After the first sewage was introduced into the system in November of 2020, commissioning commenced the following spring. On May 10, 2021, Clark/Ulliman Schutte joined representatives from local, state, and federal government for a ribbon cutting ceremony to inaugurate a new era for the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant and the residents of Baltimore.

“Marylanders have a right to clean, safe water. Slashing by 80 percent the sewer overflows in Baltimore that can deposit a variety of unwanted pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay is a tremendous accomplishment,” said U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin, Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee. “The massive Headworks Project installation at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant results from the combined vision, partnership and dedication of public officials at all levels. It shows what great things can happen for our City when we invest in our critical infrastructure.”