Featured in IQ: 2013 Volume 5 Issue 3
Every summer, kids make their way to the Arbuckle Mountains in south-central Oklahoma where they participate in the largest youth encampment in the country. The Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, more commonly referred to as Falls Creek, began in 1917 when it hosted 273 campers, but nearly a century later, upwards of 54,000 kids visit the camp each summer.
The camp's aging infrastructure couldn't uphold the staggering rate of growth at the camp. The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO), who operates the camp, knew they were facing a real problem more than a decade ago.
In 2001, the BGCO began a $24 million project to build a 7,000-seat worship facility—a tabernacle large enough to handle the camp's growth. The design included storm sewer, sanitary sewer, water lines, parking lots, a new street and segmented block retaining walls.
"It was a major walk of faith," said Bill Green, who served as associate executive director at the time the project began. "This was a God-sized project. It was a big walk of faith for our convention to take on such a journey as this, and it's proving to be everything we hoped and prayed it would be."
With the new tabernacle in place, the camp continued to grow, and eventually other problems arose. This time it was with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Falls Creek had outgrown their water and wastewater treatment facilities. The DEQ issued the BGCO notices of violation concerning the operation of their water and wastewater treatment plants. The BGCO needed water and wastewater infrastructure planning, permitting, design, and operation to assist in meeting the DEQ requirements, so they turned to Garver to assist them with their water woes.
"There were many moving parts associated with meeting the regulatory requirements. The key to making this project a success was being able to see the big picture before any ground had actually been broken," said Michael Graves, who served as project leader during the project, and now serves as a vice president and Water Team leader at Garver.
Garver designed and oversaw the installation of a new advanced membrane water treatment plant to replace the facility's slow sand filter treatment plant, which has been in operation since the late 1960s.
The old water treatment system was simple and effective, but it lacked redundancy. The DEQ has been phasing these plants out," said Garver Project Manager Mary Elizabeth Mach. "It felt good that Garver had the opportunity to assist in water upgrades at a landmark facility, knowing it would impact thousands of kids each summer."
The new water treatment plant is capable of treating the maximum daily demand for the campground's expected population at full utilization. The treatment plant contains several membrane modules, which in turn contain thousands of membrane fibers made from a durable chlorine-resistant polymer. Pressure provided by the feed pump moves the water across membrane walls. As the clean water passes through the membrane walls, particles greater than the membrane pore size are retained on the surface of the fibers.
"The differences between the previous system and the new membrane plant are substantial," says Mach. "However, the system utilizes computers and controls, essentially automating most everything. The day-to-day operations of the plant are quite simple for operators."
The process removes particulates, including viruses, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium. In testing the water quality, the turbidity—cloudiness—of the water is studied and measured in nephelometric turbidity units (NTUs). Most plants across the U.S. strive for at least a level below 1.0 NTUs.
"We get 0.018 NTUs, which is almost nothing," said Falls Creek Utilities Supervisor Gary Warren.
The real challenge of the project came in figuring out how to design a water treatment plant sandwiched between a mountain and the creek. On one side of the plant, part of the mountain had to be carved out; on the otherside, the creek required the plant to be raised over 10 feet to protect it against floodwaters. Getting it built fast enough so that the camp's steady flow of 54,000 campers went uninterrupted required close coordination with the contractor as well.
"Additionally, we had to consider how equipment would be serviced and maintained once the plant was completed," said Mach.
Garver worked on the project from beginning to end—from the engineering report to the design, from construction to start-up and writing the operations and maintenance manuals to assist the operators with the new technology. Despite the tight footprint, the challenging site, and the aggressive schedule circumstances required, the BGCO obtained a state-of-the-art plant within a very short timeline.
"Garver and [the contractor] worked to discover a functional solution that has provided for better access and sustainability for the long term, "said Camp Director James Swain. "The water treatment plant brings Falls Creek into compliance with the DEQ standards for drinking water and provides the capacity that will serve the future growth of the conference center."
Placing the water treatment plant into service only partially completed the infrastructure makeover. The next step was to implement solutions that would address the BGCO's aging and undersized sewer infrastructure. Garver designed collection system improvements and a new wastewater treatment plant to increase treatment capacity as well as meet new discharge permit limits. Construction just began on the fourth and final phase of the wastewater project, which will be completed next year.
Garver negotiated a phased approach with DEQ, which allowed the BGCO flexibility with scheduling constraints as well as financial planning. As the BGCO is not eligible for loans or grants from the government, smaller projects over the course of three years made it more financially palatable. Further, the projects were extensive and would present safety concerns while children were present. Completing the project during a single off-season would be difficult. This approach allowed one phase to be constructed each year during the off-season, while minimizing impact to campers.
"Nearly every kid who grows up in Oklahoma spends time at Falls Creek at one time or another—I did," said Graves. "It's a humbling thing to think about all the lives Garver's work is touching, and it's a reminder of why we put forth the extra effort to ensure Falls Creek has a well-designed infrastructure to ensure the continuation of the BGCO's work for many years to come."
Garver is proud to continue serving such an organization as Falls Creek and its 54,000 annual summer campers.