Closer Look: City, county, utilities moving ahead on projects

When it seems not much is happening in Winchester and Clark County, there’s always something happening behind the scenes.

Millions of dollars are spent annually, using both public and private funds, to improve the place so many people call home. Projects can range from renovating a public housing complex to purchasing a new street sweeper or paving and repairing public roads.

City and county officials recently approved their respective budgets for the new fiscal year, which started Monday, so it seemed to be an appropriate time to review several of the ongoing projects in and around Winchester.

EPA consent decree

In April 2017, the City of Winchester, Winchester Municipal Utilities, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state officials signed a settlement agreement, after 27 sanitary sewer overflows were identified. The document, known as a consent decree, also ordered WMU to implement a number of other programs including an inventory of its sewers, an infrastructure rehabilitation program and a fats, oils and grease program, among many others.

A dozen years and more than $72 million later, the end is finally in sight, though still in the distance.

WMU Interim General Manager Duke Dryden said 21 of the SSOs have been repaired and certified. Another three have been completed, but are still awaiting final approval to be removed from the list, he said.

That leaves three around the area of Flanagan and Madison streets.

“We’d like to go to construction in June 2022 and complete it in December 2023,” Dryden said.

Meeting the terms of the consent decree have been a driving force in WMU since it was issued. The decree did not include any funding for the work, so the utility has had to implement a tiered rate increase to generate necessary funds, he said.

Dryden said the utility has been meeting the goals and terms to complete the work, but had to ask for an extension to complete the Flanagan-Madison portion. Last year, WMU lost its biggest user when Alltech closed. As other business users have conserved water as well, revenue is down about $1.4 million, he said.

“If I could do it this year, I would,” Dryden said.

Sphar building

What to do with the former seed warehouse at the corner of North Main and Depot streets has been an active discussion for the past couple years, including whether it should be saved at all.

The building, originally built in 1881, has been described as one of the agricultural anchors in Winchester’s history. It was built along the railroad line through downtown Winchester, and near the Winchester depot.

The building, though, has been vacant for several years and has deteriorated badly. The original plans to convert the 27,000 square-foot building into a welcome center, office space and possibly rental space ground to a halt in March. With bids in the $3 million range and about $2 million on hand in grants and pledges, the city commission ultimately voted to demolish the building. A change in county leadership led to some of the funding being either returned or rescinded as well.

The project isn’t dead yet, though. The city is moving ahead with a scaled down version of the project, using a $1 million state grant as the core funding.

“As of today, the architects are working on a scaled-down version of the building,” Winchester City Manager Matt Belcher said. At this point, the project would involve demolishing about two-thirds of the current building to leave the original building. It would then be used for office space for industrial development, chamber or commerce and tourism, he said, as well as the welcome center.

“We hope, by the time they do the redesign, to go to bid in August or September,” Belcher said. “We want to save the original 1880 building. If this doesn’t work, the city’s already voted to demolish it.”

The cost of demolition and redeveloping the site, though, would entirely rest on the city, he said.

“I think it’s worth this to see where the bids come in,” Belcher said. “Once this history is gone, it’s gone forever.”

Roads, roads and roads

The Clark County Fiscal Court is helping the state with an experiment in the Verna Hills subdivision.

In June, the county received a $100,000 grant from the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet to install 990 tons of a rubberized asphalt in the subdivision.

The product, which uses ground rubber from recycled tires, will be applied over the existing road surface on seven streets within Verna Hills. The subdivision is located on U.S. 60 near the Clark-Fayette county line.

The county is also seeing funds to resurface the other roads in Verna Hills. Clark County Road Supervisor Allan Curtis previously told the Clark County Fiscal Court the subdivision streets had not been paved in decades, and there were enough streets to qualify for the grant.

Clark was one of five counties chosen to participate.

The state is continuing its work on road improvement with plans to spend $407,000 to resurface 2.4 miles each of McClure and Flanagan Station roads later this year. The state earmarked $528,000 for Clark County this fiscal year.

The county had the option to accept $121,000 in flex funding for use on county roads or leave it with the state to use on other state roads in Clark County. The fiscal court voted to keep the $121,000, though specific projects were not identified at the time.

More, better water

WMU is about halfway through construction of its new 9-million gallon-per-day water treatment plant along Boonesboro Road.

For the utility, the water plant is its third major construction project in the past dozen years, following wastewater plants at Strode Creek and Lower Howards Creek.

“We anticipate March or April 2020 for completion,” Dryden said. “We hope to be treating water by March. The parking lot lines may not be drawn, but we’ll be substantially complete.”

Work began on the $20.1 million project in March 2018. When completed, it will replace the current water treatment plant, parts of which are more than 100 years old, he said. The last significant upgrade to the current plant was in 1974.

“It’s time,” Dryden said. “The EPA and (Kentucky) Division of Water have ratcheted down their standards. We’re meeting those today, but it’s getting harder. It will be so much easier (with the new plant).”

The current facility is at maximum capacity of 6 million gallons per day.

There is also a $3 million technology upgrade ongoing at the Strode Creek facility to add a centrifuge to process more of the solids from customers.

“Our industries generate a lot of sludge,” Dryden said. “Their processes generate a lot of sludge. It comes in the consistency of yogurt. After the process, it’s the consistency of wet soil. This will help us accommodate Danimer (Scientific, a new industry) and new growth.”

Starting over

One of the most ambitious projects announced is the redevelopment of Lincoln Street, one block on a one-way street in downtown Winchester. The property borders the railroad tracks. The lots are too small for current codes and many of the homes are not up to standard either.

In a partnership with WMU and Habitat for Humanity of Madison and Clark Counties, the neighborhood will essentially be taken to the ground and rebuilt.

“The engineer have been given the green light to design the streets and the lots,” Belcher said. “Some properties will be purchased, some will be (obtained through) eminent domain.”

WMU will also replace the infrastructure along Lincoln Street as well, which Dryden estimates at $200,000.

Lots will be combined and redrawn. The street itself will become a proper two-way street. New homes will be built.

The city has already received a $1 million community development block grant for the project and has pledged $632,000 for infrastructure. Habitat pledged another $400,000.

Presently, the city is working on the first phase, which would rework one side of the street. A second phase would handle the other side.

“The Urban Renewal Board has pushed for this for years now,” Belcher said. “Hopefully there will be a phase two and (the board) can reach out to other neighborhoods.”

The immediate hurdle is acquiring the property. Having to go through the courts could lengthen the process, he said.

“Once we purchase and reconfigure the lots, (Habitat) will go to work,” Belcher said. “They’re accepting applications to build houses on the sites.”

Current property owners will have the opportunity to purchase property once the project is complete, and there are programs for relocation assistance as well.