Prior to 1937, the town of Vevay’s water plant was located along the Ohio River, but after the Great Flood of 1937, the town was forced to relocate the water pumps that supplied the town with water to the town’s power plant building on Seminary Street.
The town’s water has flowed through that building ever since, but now structural problems with the old building along with state and federal guidelines on how water is supplied to communities has the Vevay Town Council considering its options.
The building, which stands iconically just west of the Vevay Municipal Building and east of the fairgrounds parking lot, is crumbling onto itself, with large portions of the concrete roof coming loose and falling; while sections of brick making up the walls have been cracking and falling. All of this is making the building dangerous for town workers to enter and to store town equipment in it.
That’s easier said than done, because in the basement of the water plant are three of the town’s four large water pumps that supply all Vevay Utility customers with water. The fourth pump is located on the former Shoe Factory baseball field.
Vevay Utilities Superintendent Terry Brindley said that most of the time it only takes one of the pumps to supply the water needs of the town, but in cases where there would be a large demand for water – like in the case of a big fire – other pumps automatically switch on in order to meet the need.
But no matter which pump is operating, all of the town’s water flows through the basement of the old water plant building so that it can have chlorine added to it before it goes into homes and businesses. State and federal regulations say that those water pumps need to be out of the basement level of a structure, and the chlorine needs to be stored in a separate building for overall safety.
None of that is to code in Vevay.
With the water plant building near 100 years old, significant structural damage means that – if the building should collapse – the ability of the town to supply utility customers with water would be significantly harmed.
“This building has been falling apart over time,” town councilman Josh South said. “Then over the course of the past 16 months, our workers have seen the problems expand. We’ve had concrete pieces falling out of the ceiling and other problems.”
Terry Brindley and other town workers were near the pumps when a section of concrete ceiling fell near them; and when workers started the town’s Bobcat loader inside the building, bricks fell from the walls.
“There are places inside the building where the wall is bowing badly to the point that you can stick your hand through there,” Josh South said.
The Vevay Town Council started an income survey at the end of last year that is the first part of a planning grant. Josh South said that currently there haven’t been enough income surveys come in to allow the town to apply for the planning grant; and once those are collected and if the planning grant is approved, the town is looking at a six- to eight-month process just for the planning. After that, the town would then have to apply for another grant to get the funds to actually replace the building. Part of that plan would be to bring the water pumps up and above ground and then build a building over them. Then a separate structure would have to be build to hold chlorine and fluoride.
“Another issue is that the historic preservation committee has to look at it and tell us that it is okay to do something with it or tear it down because the building is a contributing factor to the historic district,” Town Councilman Keith Smith said.
Getting permission to do something with the building from a historical perspective will also take some time as paperwork is filed and approved. That process has already begun.
“The problem with the grants is that it puts us about two years out in order to get that grant money,” Josh South said. “And we don’t think it’s going to make it that long.”
The town recently contacted the Lieutenant Governor’s office and the Office of Rural and Community Affairs about the state’s flexible funding account. This account is designed to help communities who have an emergency with getting money quickly to solve the problem.
Those funds have been exhausted and are not available.
“That really puts the weight back here right on the town’s shoulders to get something moving quickly,” Josh South said. “In our opinion, we don’t think we can wait that long. We need to start working on something fast – and it’s going to come out of our coffers.”
“For the safety of our workers and for the safety of the town’s water, I don’t think we can wait two years,” Keith Smith said.
The councilmen estimated that it will cost $500,000 to complete the project.
But even at a half a million dollars, if the building falls in and destroys the pumps and the chlorine/fluoride systems, it leaves the entire town without water.
Not only does that take water out of homes and businesses, but it also takes water away from fire suppressant systems, which would make the job of Jeff-Craig Fire and Rescue very difficult should there be a fire.
Members of the Jeff-Craig fire department also raised some concerns when they worked on one of the town’s emergency sirens located at the water plant.
“We were working with the town guys about the water system and how the all water for the entire town, even though it’s a loop system, it all comes through here,” Jeff-Craig assistant chief Chris See said. “If that building falls, it’s an issue. The roof is about two feet of concrete, so if it falls it’s all going to come tumbling in. If that happens, we wouldn’t have any fire hydrants in the town; and any building with a sprinkler system would have those be inoperable.”
That includes such buildings as Swiss Villa Nursing and Rehabilitation Center; the Switzerland County jail and courthouse; and the schools located in Vevay. Chris See said that without working sprinkler systems, a fire watch person would have to be hire to keep watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week – or the buildings could not be used.
Chris See said if the building would collapse to the point where the pumps and systems couldn’t operate, it would also become a public health issue because if the water is not being chlorinated, it couldn’t be used. If that happens, the health department would have issues with contamination. Could restaurants have water, for example?
“We’d probably have to truck water in,” Josh South said.
The town council has been receiving information on what options are available from an engineer, and Terry Brindley said that any plan approved would first have to be approved by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which will also take some time.
“But every day that we wait to get started is another day closer to us having a real problem,” Josh South said.
“I’d say it will take at least two months to tear it down and build it new,” Keith Smith said. “And that’s after we get the okay to tear it down.”
Bringing the wells themselves up to ground level is a big task in itself. Terry Brindley said that each of the pumps is about 50-horsepower, and the wells sink about 90 feet into the ground.
“It’s not going to be a cheap process,” Terry Brindley said.
Josh South and Keith Smith said that, along with fellow council member Jamie Hayes, started the process of looking at the building and water situation when they first took office in January, and the council thought it had time to assess the situation – all have been amazed at how quickly the building has deteriorated over the past two months.
“I think we’re at the point now where we are in ‘no man’s land’ and we’re just going to have to go for it,” Josh South said.
“We’ve got our equipment out of there and we’ve told our employees not to go in there unless they absolutely have to,” Keith Smith said. “We can talk about the building all you want, but first and foremost we are going to protect our workers.”
Terry Brindley said that even with the orders to stay out of the building whenever possible, workers still have to go to the basement every day to check the water system.
“It’s a huge risk to our employees and to our town, and it’s also a huge liability to our town, also,” Josh South said.
All of the town councilmen stressed that, in spite of rumors that may be swirling through town, there is no truth that the town will soon be without water – and the council is moving as quickly as it is to make sure they avoid any possible outage.
And it’s not just a “town problem.”
Many county residents with cisterns drive into Vevay and fill their water tanks at the water plant; and that would stop if there is a problem with the building. County buildings like the courthouse; jail; new extension building; medical building; county health department; fairgrounds; and other buildings on the town’s water system would be impacted.