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Environmental group sets sights on sewage treatment control house for new HQ


North Wastewater Treatment Plant  -- photo by Adam Burke
North Wastewater Treatment Plant — photo by Adam Burke

A local environmental group, Ecopolis, is intent on repurposing a flood-ruined and abandoned wastewater treatment facility built on the floodplain in Iowa City’s Riverfront Crossings District. The North Wastewater Treatment Plant (1000 S. Clinton St.) was built in 1935 with money from the Public Works Administration (PWA) and is slated for demolition by the city in order to become a park. Nonetheless, Ecopolis plans to hold a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 24 at 12 p.m. to celebrate what they hope will become their new home base.

The treatment plant processed Iowa City’s sewage for about 75 years until it was ruined in the 2008 flood. The planned demolition of the treatment plant — estimated to cost over $4 million — is being funded in part by a flood mitigation grant from the state. According to city planner Karen Howard, building demolition will commence in the spring, and excavation of the treatment storage tanks has already begun.

The city will host its own community forum for the proposed Riverfront Crossings Park and Iowa River Restoration Project on Jan. 28 at the Park Lodge at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area (579 McCollister Blvd.). The program will feature presentations about wetlands creation, river and stream restoration, and concepts for the park’s design.

Ecopolis members are still hoping the building can be saved and repurposed into the headquarters for their group.

Pushing a progressive agenda that includes renewable energy, sustainable urban food landscapes and regenerative urban planning, Ecopolis members hope their ribbon-cutting event will meet the approval of the city and they can move into the site this summer.

Howard said that many of Ecopolis’ ideas are consistent with the goals of the Riverfront Crossing: to encourage the development of a walkable, mixed-use urban neighborhood; to enhance Ralston Creek to become a community asset; and to promote sustainable design practices throughout the district.

But Howard stressed that the city is committed to the demolition plan and conversion of the site into a park with wetlands, a restored stream bed, a river bank and hiking and biking trails.

Demolition has begun at outside water treatment tanks  -- photo by Adam Burke
Demolition has begun at outside water treatment tanks. — photo by Adam Burke

For Geoffrey Lauer, an Iowa City resident and member of Ecopolis, the proposed Ecopolis Center is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will define the legacy of Iowa City and its threatened riverside.”

Lauer says the Ecopolis Center will help make Iowa City a leader in efforts for local food, renewable energy and progressive urban design initiatives.

“We’ve restored our city from floods and tornadoes. Now, in 2015, it’s time for Iowa City to make history again and take real steps towards creating the first eco-district in Iowa,” said Miriam Alarcón Avila. “The portal to such an endeavor begins with the establishment of the Ecopolis Center.”

The ribbon cutting ceremony plans to feature games for kids, hot beverages and food. Local band The Feralings will perform at the celebration. As part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the inaugural Ecopolis awards will be given to Iowa City innovators, as well as local food and renewable energy activists.


— video by Erica Blair

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