It looks a bit like a jumbo-size playground tucked into an industrial section of the city, but the jumble of concrete blocks containing variously sized tunnel sections at the new West Philadelphia Sewer Maintenance Facility actually serves a serious purpose: to train PWD workers doing the potentially dangerous work of inspecting and maintaining sewers and pipes in our 3,700-mile wastewater system.

Designed to give sewer workers hands-on experience in various types of sewers, the training course is just one of many useful features now being used at the sustainably designed facility, which celebrated its opening in March.

Nearly one-quarter of the more than 200 sewer maintenance workers at PWD now use the space.

West Phila. Sewer Facility Serves Infrastructure Workers

A state-of-the-art training and operations hub for the City’s sewer infrastructure workforce, the project cost approximately $17 million to build. Located at about 2.5 miles above the Southwest Water Pollution Control Plant and just west of the Schuylkill River, the new campus represents a significant upgrade in the Water Department’s capacity to support the complex range of training, equipment, and staff needs that come with maintaining thousands of miles of sewers.

One of the final projects she saw to completion, the facility was a point of pride for now-retired Commissioner Debra McCarty:

“As we modernize and improve the infrastructure protecting our neighborhoods and waterways, it’s important to also invest in our workers and the facilities they depend on,” McCarty said in an announcement marking the March ribbon cutting celebration. “I’m proud to see this site completed because it provides our workers with the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently and with confidence that they’ll go home safely to their families every day. This is an investment that will serve Philadelphia for many years to come.”

While existing workers can learn to use the latest equipment and techniques, the facility also improves the City’s ability to hire new employees needed to perform critical Water Department positions.

Water Department workers performing dangerous jobs, including sewer flushing operators and sewer “crawlers”—or inspectors—are benefiting from new training and examination areas and improved tools for learning how to stay safe on the job, and do technical maintenance tasks.

Highlights include:

  • New and expanded cleaning and changing facilities designed for a more gender-diverse City workforce.
  • Increased storage area for a variety of material types.
  • Climate-controlled storage for a specialized sewer flushing and vacuuming fleet to protect machinery from cold-weather damage.
  • Expanded parking for employees and PWD equipment.

Certified with a Gold rating under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system, the new site uses a geothermal heating and cooling system and was constructed in line with City’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions from municipal buildings.

Naturally, the property also contributes to the goals of the Water Department’s Green City, Clean Waters program: a large stormwater management basin and parking lot paved with rain-absorbing material were designed to reduce runoff entering our sewers by millions of gallons per year.

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