[Noozhawk’s note: The Goleta Sanitary District owns and operates the wastewater treatment plant in partnership with the Goleta West Sanitary District. An earlier story was incorrect and has been corrected below.]

Bids for the Goleta Sanitary District’s wastewater treatment plant upgrade came in substantially less than the $50 million range that officials were expecting.

Kamil Azoury, general manager of the Goleta Sanitary District, which owns and operates the plant at 1 William Moffett Place, said the district awarded the contract Tuesday night to PCL Construction for $28,623,477. It is a large firm that has offices in Southern California and is headquartered in Tempe, Ariz.

“The bidding environment has been good from the standpoint that there are lower prices,” Azoury said. “Construction is affected by the bad economy unfortunately, but it’s a project that will be putting some people to work, and it is actually a very good price for us and a very good price for the community.”

The Goleta Sanitary District hopes to break ground on the project in mid-March and be finished by the end of 2013. The district received approval for a low-interest loan of more than $30 million in late 2009, but Azoury said the unexpectedly low construction bid means the district will probably get through the project without needing to borrow very much.

Of the seven bids that came in, six were in the range of $28 million to $31 million, and one was for $36 million.

The treatment plant serves the entire Goleta Valley from the Santa Barbara city limit on the east to the Embarcadero Municipal Improvement District to the west. The Goleta West Sanitary District, UCSB, the Santa Barbara Airport, the Santa Barbara County Jail and parks within that area use the plant and pay for their share of the upgrade costs.

The Goleta West Sanitary District’s share is 40 percent, and it has saved $20 million in reserves for those purposes. However, with the lower bid, its share will be closer to $12 million, and the savings can be used for other capital projects, Goleta West general manager Mark Nation said in a news release.

The city of Goleta, which is served by both sanitary districts with differences in user rate fees, has tried to detach from Goleta West and claim the special district’s tax revenues and reserves. However, to make the change worth it, the city’s Revenue-Neutrality Agreement with the county would have to be re-negotiated. It hasn’t been, so the application was withdrawn last November. Goleta West fought the detachment proposal, and has consistently said that usage fees would increase dramatically if detachment went through.

The plant wastewater treatment plant processes 5 million to 6 million gallons of raw sewage each day, and Azoury told Noozhawk that the upgrades are expected to have a 30-year lifespan.

The Goleta Sanitary District plans to hold open house events later this year to give the community a look at ongoing construction.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.