PCL Construction and Stantec go beyond building water treatment plant on San Francisco’s Treasure Island

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California Construction News staff wrtier

PCL Construction and Stantec are building a new water treatment plant on Treasure Island, an area San Francisco has targeted for future growth.

At the same time, PCL employees have been working to strengthen the community through volunteer work with local non-profit organizations.

“Our partnership with PCL has been a game changer for us,” says Nella Goncalves, co-executive director of One Treasure Island, an organization that works to create a vibrant, inclusive community on Treasure Island. “I’ve been impressed with the quality of people who work for PCL; they’re friendly and engaging and talented, and there’s no job that’s too dirty or beneath them. We’ve been waiting for a partner like this.”

Treasure Island is a 393-acre man-made island in San Francisco Bay, about two miles northeast of Fisherman’s Wharf, with a current population of around 2,500.

Construction of the island wrapped up in 1937, and it hosted the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939 and 1940. It also served as an air travel hub and housed a U.S. Navy base until it was decommissioned in 1997.

“We have limited amenities and limited resources on the island,” Goncalves says. “It’s been a community in transition for a long time.”

Baird Kerr, a senior project manager with PCL’s Long Beach Civil office, says the new water treatment plant PCL is building for the SFPUC is part of a larger redevelopment of the island that’s needed for several reasons, not the least of which is rising sea levels. The plant, slated for completion in early 2026, will handle 1.3 million gallons of wastewater per day — enough to accommodate population growth of up to 20,000 people. It’s designed to be surrounded by parks and fit in with the landscape.

“It’s a small, diverse community,” he said. “They’re trying to build a whole new kind of community there, replacing aging infrastructure with new affordable housing and creating a lot of park and community spaces.”

“Right now, the water system works until it doesn’t. It’s very old,” Goncalves adds. “Having this new water treatment plant on the island is going to be awesome for residents. People are going to feel like we’re legitimate and not the stepchild of San Francisco. This is a legitimate community with its own infrastructure.”

One Treasure Island started in 1994 as the Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative. Its role was to transition the old naval base into a livable community for low-income and formerly homeless individuals and families.

Since PCL was awarded the water treatment plant contract in summer 2023, the company has been finding ways to reach out to the local community and support organizations like One Treasure Island.

“With Stantec’s help, we identified nonprofit organizations in the area that we’re interested in contributing to,” says Raven Herrera, a project engineer with PCL’s Long Beach Civil office. “Then we allotted volunteer hours that we believed we could spend with these organizations.”

PCL has helped One Treasure Island organize and run several large community events, including their annual gala in October. But they’ve also helped with smaller events like the weekly food pantry, a Halloween party and bingo nights. One Treasure Island offers employment services, including a job broker program that aims to fill 25% of entry-level positions on the island with residents. They also offer construction training programs, which PCL and its vendors have been heavily involved with.

“We want to give people skills that they can continue to use beyond the life of the project,” Kerr says. “There are fewer and fewer people going into construction, but construction’s never going to go away. It’s important to let people know what kind of opportunities there are in construction.”

PCL also supports STEM education initiatives such as Spark Labs, which works with middle school students around the Bay Area. Herrera led a session on water filtration, teaching kids where their water comes from and demonstrating how it’s filtered before it reaches faucets.

“Before I really knew who PCL was or what it was doing on the island, we were rocking and rolling with them,” says Chantel Giochino. For her, working with One Treasure Island is more than a job. She first engaged with the organization as a client when she lived on Treasure Island for nine years; now she’s the organization’s community engagement and events coordinator. “I came with my daughter and I got my life together. I was a client, and now it’s come full circle for me,” she says. “It’s crazy to see how much the island has changed.”

“Now the events are 10 times better because I actually get to take photos and visit with residents instead of running around,” she continues. “The support I’ve felt from PCL has been overwhelmingly amazing.”

For One Treasure Island, the support and the camaraderie from PCL have been immense.

“I feel like our companies have merged,” Ginochio says. “It feels like it’s One Treasure Island/PCL-Stantec. Our small but mighty team got really large.”

For Herrera, the work being done on Treasure Island reminds her why she got involved in engineering. She initially majored in civil engineering because she was interested in building infrastructure that improved people’s quality of life. She then became interested in how engineering practices could better benefit the communities they impact, and she went on to get a master’s degree in humanitarian engineering.

“When I got to this project, I volunteered to be the point person right away,” she says. “Obviously a wastewater treatment plant benefits the community once it’s built, but during construction, we’re moving onto the island, bringing equipment, changing people’s day-to-day. So, for me, it was really about what we can do while we’re here to leave a positive impact.”

“We’re a community builder,” Kerr adds. “We want to give back and be part of the community, and we want to leave a positive impression where we’ve worked. We impact communities through the infrastructure we build, but we also try to find a way to give back in a positive way.”

That kind of relationship is something One Treasure Island has been looking for throughout its existence, and one Goncalves is grateful to have found.

“To have a partner like PCL, it’s special,” she says. “We’ve been here a long time and we have many good partnerships, but I can tell you none has developed as quickly and as strongly as this one.”

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