Walton CSD seeks long-term flooding solutions
The question facing the Walton Central School board of education is simple. What can the district do to prevent future flooding at Townsend Elementary School?
Finding an answer is far more complicated.
“Long conversations with the state education department and local and regional flood commissions tell us that our school district cannot ignore the possibility and consequences of future flooding,” Walton Superintendent Roger Clough said.
“Hurricane Sandy in 2012 showed that we cannot rely on state and federal agencies to bail us out,” he continued. “They don’t have the money to fully restore us after every disaster.”
The Board of Education, district officials and the facilities committee have been exploring solutions for two years.
One option would construct earthen dams to hold back the East Brook. The plan would also relocate all heating and ventilation units to rooftops, build water barriers at the doors, fill in the basement and move technology and utilities above the flood zone. Together with needed lighting and safety improvements and renovations to classroom spaces, the plan would cost an estimated $10.5 million.
At first, Andy Jackson, Walton’s Director of Facilities, said that option was appealing because it meant the fewest changes for students and the community. Further conversations with architects and flood experts, however, revealed that the plan would not eliminate the risk of flooding and could not prevent groundwater from seeping up and damaging the school. Worse, damming school property would simply divert floodwaters and could worsen neighborhood flooding.
Jackson added that doing nothing was not an option. He said each time the state issues a flood warning, the school maintenance staff moves furniture and supplies from the lowest parts of Townsend to higher ground. That happens two to three times each year on average. The cost of the moves and any disruption to class time is small compared to the losses resulting from a significant flood.
According to District Business Manager Greg Dale, repairs after the 1996 and 2006 floods totaled about $6 million, with local taxpayers picking up about $1 million of the costs.
Clough said the Board is asking if making repairs that won’t prevent flooding and may aggravate water problem for neighbors while continuing to pay $30,000 to $40,000 each year in flood insurance a wise plan or is it throwing good money after bad?
As an alternative, the district requested that architect and engineering firm Bernier, Carr & Associates to explore the possibility of building a new elementary school adjacent to the middle/high school on Stockton Ave.
“That solution is not without its drawbacks,” Clough said. “On one hand, it would allow us to build facilities that meet the challenges of educating student for a global workplace and become more efficient by combining everything on one campus. It would free up land in the village to help mitigate flooding. On the other hand, it would mean a big change for our residents.
“We, both the school and the community, need a solution that respect people’s love of a neighborhood elementary school, provides the best educational opportunity for Walton’s students and makes wise use of taxpayer dollars.”
Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2015