Proposed water tower - rendering

This rendering of a water tower proposed for School District of Lancaster property in Lancaster Township is part of a series of shadow studies. The view is looking north, toward Wheatland Middle School. 

The cost of a controversial, 3 million-gallon water tower Lancaster city wants to build on property owned by the School District of Lancaster isn’t as cheap as the city once thought.

Lancaster city officials say they recently discovered a “significant” error in the comparative pricing done by the engineering firm they hired to calculate the cost for 14 different water sites in and around Lancaster Township.

Despite the error, Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace said, the location near Wheatland Middle School in Lancaster Township is expected to remain the least expensive site.

“It fundamentally does not change the conclusion that has been drawn in terms of site location,” Sorace said in a phone interview Thursday.

According to preliminary numbers updated by engineering firm ARRO Consulting, there’s still a “significant difference” between the school district-owned site and the others.

The city and school district are in the process of negotiating terms for the water tower site, which has been a sore subject for many Lancaster Township residents who lament the lack of green space and board members who have expressed concerns over the city’s eminent domain power.

Other sites include several near Millersville Pike, one near Eshleman Elementary School in Millersville and one on the Armstrong World Industries site on Columbia Avenue. Costs, according to the original calculations — and later discovered as inaccurate — were anywhere from $1.25 million to $4.1 million more than for the school district site near Wheatland.

Two sites at Lancaster Community Park were disqualified at the request of the township.

‘Shouldn’t make a huge difference’

In a meeting with Lancaster Township officials in late June, Sorace said they spotted an error in the engineers’ calculations. The school district site didn’t include additional costs for piping, which, for other locations, is as much as $3.1 million.

Sorace said the corrections are still being finalized and would be sent to LNP on Monday.

Charlotte Katzenmoyer, the city’s director of public works, said the new calculations shouldn’t “make a huge difference in the pricing.”

The 113-foot-tall water tower was originally supposed to cost $7.5 million — $6 million for the structure itself, plus $1.5 million for site work and on-site infrastructure.

“Just knowing what I know about how much piping there is, (the school district site) is still going to be the most cost-effective,” she said. “I just know enough about the site.”

As far as how much the city has paid for Lititz-based ARRO’s services, Katzenmoyer said she wouldn’t be able to provide LNP those numbers until Monday because the engineers are out of town. The city, she added, is not paying ARRO to “correct an error” made on the original cost comparisons.

‘A moral obligation’

Lancaster Township Supervisor Steve Elliott said the city should “pause” the process until the citizens and school board could be presented with accurate numbers.

“The city has a moral obligation to demonstrate that this is the appropriate site,” he said in an email.

Even if the school district site remains the most cost-effective, Elliott said, a small increase in cost may be worth paying for a less controversial site — “perhaps a site that is already commercialized and not on a school property next to a park and behind a neighborhood?”

Katzenmoyer said she is unsure when the city will submit the new calculations to the school board, which doesn’t meet this month.

Buchanan Elementary School

Construction of a new Buchanan Elementary School near the city’s preferred site was held up by the water tower controversy before the school board approved the addition of a 5,000-gallon water tank at the school in December 2017 to eliminate its reliance on a tower.

At Monday’s Lancaster Township supervisors meeting, the school district’s plans for the new school were pulled, but SDL chief finance and operations officer Matt Przywara said they will be resubmitted with changes to a roadway in the area.

Przywara said he anticipates a fall 2018 groundbreaking on the new school, and added this related to the water tower:

“It is the intention of the school district to work with all of our municipalities to work toward the best possible solution … for our community and our students.”