AlexRenew opens turf field atop water treatment facility

AlexRenew opens turf field atop water treatment facility

By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)

Last month, city officials celebrated the opening of a new athletic field on Limerick Street in the Carlyle-Eisenhower East neighborhood. The field is anticipated to host a variety of sports teams and community groups, but has one significant difference from similar facilities in the Port City: beneath it sits 18 million gallons of sewage waiting to be treated before it is released into a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The turf field was part of a $145 million project by Alexandria Renew Enterprises Inc. to build a new headquarters, and has been given to the city under a 15-year easement. Meanwhile, construction on AlexRenew’s new headquarters continues at speed, and the organization expects to open its doors and expand its water treatment capabilities next spring.

AlexRenew cleans about 13.2 billion gallons of water each year, from which it removes 4.3 million pounds of nitrogen, 660,000 pounds of phosphorus and 32.3 million pounds of sediment. It does so while reclaiming water to run its equipment, producing 157 million cubic feet of gas to operate its facilities and provides treated sludge to 15 Virginia counties for soil enrichment.

Underfoot, the organization uses microorganisms to remove nitrogen from the water as well as other elements that can cause foul odors like ammonia. AlexRenew CEO Karen Pallansch said those using the multipurpose field need not worry about being overpowered by fumes.

“On both sides, there’s carbon treatment, so all of the air that is in the galleries and in those tanks is captured, put through that system and treated, so it escapes and you don’t smell anything,” she said. “Then in our own facility, anywhere we would have odor coming off the process, we’ve covered it. We’ve covered them, and that’s very rare, but we pull all that odorous air and that’s all captured and we have a two-stage scrubber system as a chemical system, and we invested about $11 million back in 2000 to capture all that odorous air and treat it that way.”

This new facility will allow the organization to do even more treatment work, Pallansch said, and comes after a partnership between city staff, developer JM Zell Partners and AlexRenew to create a space usable for community activities and education. The sixth-floor boardroom will be available for community meetings, in addition to a large indoor aquarium, the outdoor field and other features.

“When we started, we were putting in big tall tanks and all of a sudden we got a knock on the door from the private developer who owns all the property out front,” said Pallansch. “So we both put aside our prejudices, which was a little hard. Developers don’t necessarily trust government [and] government certainly doesn’t trust developers, but we formed a partnership and we brought city planning [officials] into it.

“The city went and asked us all what we needed, and the city’s desire was to have green space. There’s no green space here, and in the Eisenhower Valley it’s all completely redeveloped.”

Beneath the new headquarters and field are landfill sites, which Pallansch said presented their own challenges: remediation was required in some areas for contaminated soil, into which she said had been deposited a large number of tires and old car parts among other things that required proper disposal. All told, the project was in planning for about a decade, and involved a lot of planning in cooperation with many different groups.

“There were many meetings about what we wanted this public building to look like, how we wanted to integrate it,” Pallansch said. “We had several community meetings. I met with the Carlyle Community Council about what they needed. We were originally going to put in a community garden, and the developer is now going to put in a playground, because there’s no playground for these residences that are coming in.”

“Synthetic turf fields have been built on structures before, but the city is not aware of another instance where a field has been installed over a waste water treatment facility,” said Jack Browand, division chief at the city’s department of parks, recreation and cultural activities, in an email. “This type of creative partnership is exciting and the city hopes to have more inventive partnerships in the future.”

That partnership between a variety of agencies and organizations was something Pallansch said worked well, and could serve as a model for future developments that look to take into account the needs of residents.

“I think we had a perfect storm of the right people at the right time,” she said. “We were people who were willing to take some risks but, more importantly, we were willing to trust each other and not listen to some of the other rhetoric and negotiate, try to push each other to where we could and realize we have things we have to do.

“I think, for me, it’s a great process, because we have a phenomenal project out there that I look at every day and can’t believe we built.”