Can Build With KAN STEP

People who drive down some of the brick and asphalt streets in Greenleaf, Kan., might wonder, “Why all the patches?” The answer is that there is a water line below. The city has made many repairs on its old steel pipelines. Greenleaf residents are eagerly looking forward to having a more reliable water system, thanks in great measure to community leaders and volunteers who are installing an entirely new distribution system through a self-help program called KAN STEP.

Greenleaf, located in Washington County in north central Kansas, is a small community of 400 residents. Its water system consists of 190 services. The city is an agricultural-based community with some residents working in nearby towns, and it operates two wells as a source. The cost of production is relatively low, but the cost of operating a leaking water system with constant repairs became not only extremely expensive, but making the repairs also required the city’s superintendent and his co-worker to devote excessive time to keeping the utility in service.

Numbers Crunching

How to pay for an entire new public water system in Greenleaf was debated as various funding options were considered. City Superintendent Jerry Baker vowed to avoid having Greenleaf go into debt to construct a new water system. Retail costs of replacing the entire system were estimated to be $674,543 by project engineer Stuart Porter of the firm of Schwab-Eaton PA, Manhattan, Kan.

The Kansas Public Water Supply Loan Fund would have cost the town’s residents nearly $48,000 annually, or $21 per month per customer for 20 years. A U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan, with a 40-year amortization, would have cost $32,800 annually, or $16.75 per month per customer for 20 years.

Instead of pursuing a regular retail project, Baker won the support of the town’s mayor and city council in making an application to the Kansas Department of Commerce (KDC) for funding through the self-help program, KAN STEP.

Case for KAN STEP

When city officials met with representatives of KDC, they took along a section of pipeline that had been removed due to leaks. That section was not atypical among the many pipes in town containing multiple repair clamps. “Presenting that section of pipeline really opened some eyes,” Baker said.

Funding in the amount of $300,000 was eventually awarded to the city of Greenleaf. The KAN STEP grant allowed the city to purchase all materials, rent necessary equipment, pay for the design consultant and grant writer to administer the project and also fund inspection services and assistance that is provided by staff of the Kansas Rural Water Assn.

Path to Progress

Work began on the project in July 2009, and at the time of print, a completion date of Oct. 1, 2010, was expected. The project includes 21,000 ln ft of 2- to 6-in. pipeline, 190 new water service lines and meter settings, plus new valves. Some existing fire hydrants are being reset to reduce costs.

Superintendent Baker is the project’s main sparkplug, and his righthand man is Cory Rosebaugh. Other volunteers, most of whom hold day jobs, come home to supper and then provide help on the water system project. Volunteers also show up on weekends and holidays to help with some aspect of the project.

Program Overview

KAN STEP is an initiative patterned after a self-help program developed by the Rensselaerville Institute in New York, a nonprofit education center that began encouraging communities to help themselves about 40 years ago. Its community partnership program is available in a number of states.

KAN STEP, sponsored by KDC, is designed to help communities with an acknowledged community improvement problem. The program benefits low- and moderate-income persons. A minimum of 40% savings of typical retail cost must be shown through the self-help process. Types of projects in Kansas that qualify include improvements to water or sewer systems and buildings.

Since 2000, and including Greenleaf’s water system, the KAN STEP program has funded 10 water system projects, 22 community centers, 35 fire stations and four combination buildings (library- community centers). The total investment by KDC is more than $18 million. Volunteers donated more than $14 million in labor and services on these 71 projects.

Sweat equity projects may not be practical for many communities, but in rural Kansas where there is a need, there generally also is a high work ethic. KAN STEP helps communities take a closer look at their challenges and helps them achieve their projects through a program that is an inspiring solution.

Elmer Ronnebaum is general manager of the Kansas Rural Water Assn. Ronnebaum can be reached at krwa@krwa.net.

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