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High School Students get Close Look at Major Part of City’s Infrastructure Improvements

From left to right, John O’Connell High School Teacher Tia Walme and students: Sydney Lange, James O’Brien, and Felipe Montoya Perez.
  • Heidi Anderson

On a recent afternoon, a group of John O’Connell High School students walked a large, busy construction site in the Bayview, known as the New Headworks Project. As students enrolled in the Construction Pathway program, they were there to learn about the work being done to rebuild a critical facility of the City’s largest wastewater treatment plant.

New Headworks is one of the most complex projects happening at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s (SFPUC) Southeast Treatment Plant (SEP) in the Bayview. Built in the 1950’s, it is undergoing a multibillion-dollar upgrade to replace core facilities and implement modern technology. It is all part of the SFPUC’s Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP). 

“No Better Introduction to Our Building & Construction Trades”

After students toured the New Headworks construction site, teacher James Alderson talked about the importance of his Construction Pathway students seeing the new infrastructure being created in real life.

“In my seven years of teaching this course, I can tell you that there’s no better introduction to our Building & Construction Trades course than what they did today. The experience will imprint our students for life.”

His students learned not only how the New Headworks is the first step in the wastewater treatment process, but they saw how the new facility is being constructed to withstand a large earthquake, be prepared for sea level rise, and improve its operational reliability and flexibility.

He is thrilled they were able to get out onto a major construction site and engage with the workers doing the hands-on work.

“These days, when kids can only imagine and scroll through Google Earth to see what a construction site or treatment plant looks like, our students got to actually see it,” he added.

Future Builders of Our Infrastructure

Sam Reidy, the Project Director for Sundt and Walsh—the construction management and general contractor who oversees the project —provided the tour. He understands the importance of the students’ visit.

“Giving high school students the opportunity to walk the active construction site is important,” he said. “We are showing them how all aspects of it work together, and hopefully we can influence them to choose a career in engineering or construction management.”

“Today’s students are the future trades persons, superintendents, engineers and project managers we need,” he added. “They will plan, design, and construct the major infrastructure work ahead of us here in San Francisco. There is tremendous opportunity for them in the future!”

More About SFPUC’s New Headworks Facility

San Francisco is the only coastal city in California with a combined sewer system that collects and treats both wastewater and stormwater in the same network of pipes from homes and businesses - along with stormwater runoff from roofs, streets, and other surfaces when it rains. 

Now being built in the same footprint as the current Headworks Facility, the New Headworks Facility will improve debris and grit removal from up to 250 million gallons per day of storm and wastewater. This will allow all downstream processes and equipment to operate more efficiently. 

Read more about SFPUC’s Sewer System Improvement System.

Heidi Anderson