Developers and contractors eager to work with municipalities may improve their chances if they can offer practical ways to avoid ugly excavations and land restorations.
Developers and contractors eager to work with municipalities may improve their chances if they can offer practical ways to avoid ugly excavations and land restorations. Sub-divisions, for instance, that eliminate the costly future repair of cast iron curb valve boxes may win favor in cities where budgets are often eroded by broken boxes and rusty connections.
Water department chiefs say they have long been on a quest to reduce such costing repairs of curb valve boxes that seem to be inevitable. Though that goal seemed unattainable, in recent years they've been encouraged by a new push to install curb boxes designed with performance-based polyurethane and PVC piping. Products that are impervious to breaks and leaks caused by corrosive soil can save towns and cities big bucks when approving large new-growth projects. Savvy development firms that are knowledgeable about emerging trends may build more trust with decision makers resulting in winning bids and contracts.
Bob Krueger, a systems operator of the Waverly Sanitary District in Menasha, Wis, understands that firms promoting new neighborhoods may want to reduce their budgets by choosing the least-expensive components. Yet if they are aware of an innovation that will save municipalities money over time, why not add it to the pitch? City leaders may be persuaded to include the new product in their construction specifications. Since all developers and contractors must adhere to the “spec sheets” there is no fear of being low-balled on that aspect of the design.
“All the people with cast iron and steel have all the same troubles we have. Why not tell them about a solution and standardize it on the city specs?” he said.
At a trade show five years ago Krueger discovered a product for repairing the grade-level caps of curb boxes. The innovation allowed his crew to lop off the metal top and slip on a polyurethane sleeve that was easy to adjust. But that made him pine for a bigger step forward.
“We liked what we saw—the ease of installation. Then I thought, it would be nice if you could do the whole box this way.”
Krueger had good reason to want more. The boxes in his territory typically decay within 10 years. He could no longer reconcile replacing the damaged system with the identical steel or cast iron product. “Why put the same problem back in the ground again? It makes no sense,” said Krueger.
His comments inspired Argonics, a firm with facilities in Michigan and Colorado, to engineer the 3-part Speedy Sleeve Poly Curb Box System. The product includes the polyurethane sleeve, Krueger and others now use a valve box and a PVC extension pipe. The pieces are lightweight yet durable and easy to handle, unlike cast iron. They are also expected to last more than 25 years. The product comes in two styles: Minneapolis and Arch style.
Last year the Waverly Sanitary District installed nine new curb valve boxes. But he sees better days ahead when the city approves new development projects — sub-divisions and apartment complexes — and far more of the new products are put into play. It's not just what goes into the ground; managing inventory is another issue. Developers understand what municipalities face.
“You don't want to have ten different valves and curb stops in your town, or you're going to be handling a lot of inventory. You want to work with the ones that last the longest and work the best.
These boxes install easily, they're easy to adjust and they don't rely on metal threaded couplings,” said Krueger.
Contractors also benefit with this system because they only have to stock the bases and the Speedy Sleeve top. Then, when pipe is needed, they can use off-the-shelf PVC that can be cut to length on site. With the cast iron system, contractors must stock the tops and bases, plus large pallets of the different lengths of cast iron pipe.
Another less visible benefit for developers and contractors is happy homeowners. Once the curb box is in the ground it is forgotten — until a corroded box eliminates access to the water valve. If a large excavation and time-consuming restoration is needed residents begin to complain. Maybe they don't remember the name of the company responsible for the sub-division, but city leaders won't forget. Happy homeowners mean fewer headaches for the municipality.
Open to Innovation
Mark Pansier, Public Works director of the town of Ledgeview, Wis., decided to try the polyurethane curb boxes because the cast iron variety, despite being sturdy, are hard to adjust.
“It is difficult to adjust cast iron up and down. If you adjust it down too far the pipe goes against the valve and stops the valve from opening or closing. In an emergency, you need to shut down the valve, but you can't because the box is inoperable. Meanwhile lots of water damage is possible in the home with a busted water pipe,” said Pansier.
Although Pansier has yet to install the Argonics product, his first opportunity will come once developers of a new subdivision begin breaking ground in his town, possibly this summer. He estimates he'll need 25 to 50 curb boxes.
“I've talked to other water works operators who have used it and they like it. They say it's user-friendly,” said
Pansier makes repairs with PVC materials so that his crew can avoid the sometimes difficult task of cross-threading metal couplers. Some communities may stubbornly cling to old-school attitudes, but the town of Ledgeview is not one of them.
“I'm always open to new innovations and technologies. If something new comes along and it saves time and money, then I'm all for it,” he said.
But like Krueger, the savings Pansier envisions are based on reliability and reduced man-hours. Both of which are possible if seasonal repairs are reduced to a minimum.
According to Pansier, “Sometimes you pay a little more for something but it costs you far less long term than if you buy something cheaper.”
Developers who keep this in mind and can discuss long-term gratification may impress city officials.
PVC is a Breeze
Barry Marietta is a crew leader for the Department of Public Works in Michigan's Marquette Township. The shoreline of Lake Superior is not far off, and the temperatures are often sub-zero well into the spring season. Besides the frigid air, he knows what to expect when excavating sewers and water lines.
“Where we live you're going to find water, mud or hellacious rock. It's nasty, everything we do is tough. So anything that makes repairs and installations easier, I'm a believer,” he said.
At 71 years young, Marietta has worked his trade for more than half a century. In decades past he dealt with black iron in the water works, and all the corrosive vulnerabilities and inconveniences that came with it. If the pipe below the freeze line had to be extended on top, he'd have to thread a metal coupling. It was tough work. Now it's a breeze.
“The new product works really well. It saves time. If a homeowner says he wants the top at a certain level, we cut off the PVC pipe. Later, if they decide they want it lower or higher, it's easy to change, no problem,” he said.
The Marquette Department of Public Works has installed about a dozen of the new Speedy Sleeve Poly Curb Box Systems since the summer of 2015. Previously, they had trouble with another brand that disappeared below the grade level and couldn't be found when repairs were necessary. The Argonics curb valve box is easy to locate because a magnet is embedded in the cap.
“We use them now wherever we can, on water valves and even sewer, because we have miles of pressure sewers. It's so easy to install that one guy can do the repair or installation,” said Marietta.
In the end, developers and contractors need an edge to win competitive bids in communities that welcome new growth. If they can fully appreciate the definition of “easy repair” and also help cities save big money over decades, polyurethane and PVC piping may seal the deal.
For more information, call 800/991-2746 or visit publicworks.argonics.com/index.php.