Gatlinburg project up for engineering award

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 12:18 AM

Several East Tennessee engineering projects, including Gatlinburg’s Underground Utilities project, are in the running for a prestigious, state-wide engineering award.

The Engineering Excellence Awards, presented by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Tennessee, is “one of the highest honors a project team can receive,” according to a press release for the awards reception, which will be held March 5 in Franklin, Tenn.

“It is a big deal,” said Candy Toler, executive director of ACEC of Tennessee.

Toler said the projects will be judged according to specific criteria related to “meeting and exceeding client needs, complexity, and social economic and sustainable design consideration, meaning the kind of impact it would have in the community.”

“They look at how the projects will be a force in the future of engineering, original or innovative application of new or existing techniques, future value to the engineering profession, as in can that be replicated in other areas,” Toler said.

Project teams submit their projects for consideration on their own. Underground Utilities design consultant Steve Fritts said the team submitted the project because it felt the work was worthy of the award.

“The six phases of this project have fundamentally transformed the character of downtown Gatlinburg,” said Fritts, the vice president of engineering and architectural firm Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon. “Any time a project has an impact like that on a community, it’s worthy.”

Fritts said the first phase of the project began back in 1994. Five more phases, 19 years and $24 million later, the Underground Utilities project has transform the downtown streetscape to reflect the mountain village feel, helping the city land a spot on Forbes’ list of America’s prettiest towns in 2012.

“Before these projects, the city had never used shots of downtown in any of their national advertising,” Fritts said. “For the first time two years ago (after most of the project was complete), the national advertisements included shots of downtown.”

Fritts said the completion of the first phase influenced Ripley’s to bring the aquarium to Gatlinburg, which became a catalyst for the city’s commitment to extend the project five more phases.

The project team actually submitted phase six — the portion from the Gatlinburg Convention Center to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundary — to the ACEC for consideration, but included information for all the phases so the committee could see the total complexity and impact of the projects.

“The project is very complicated,” Fritts said. “There are miles of underground pipe and conduits, and a lot of difficult engineering challenges that we’ve dealt with.”

Out of the dozens of projects Fritts’ firm works on each year, the Underground Utilities project is the only one it considered submitting for consideration.

“The nature of the project as it evolves and is constructed, that has to be successful and be done well for us to think it’s worthy of an award,” Fritts said. “It’s the work that goes into it, the technology that’s employed, and of course the final result has to be a high quality project for us to submit it.

“I don’t know of another community in the state that has undertaken an effort of this magnitude. There may be one, I’m just not aware of it.”

rhargett@themountainpress.com