Fort Smith school officials discuss Peak flooding

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,828 views 

The Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education learned at its regular meeting Monday (June 27) that water came into the district’s Peak Innovation Center during record rainfall June 7 from two sources.

Shawn Shaffer, FSPS executive director of facility operations, told board members that possible solutions to keep at least part of the problem from recurring would be to design a 100-year flood plan for Peak, which could include some or more of the following: a detention pond; bypass system; re-routing roof drains to minimize contributing drainage basin; and emergency overflow.

When Peak was constructed, a 25-year flood plan was incorporated, Shaffer said.

Record rainfall in Fort Smith caused flash flooding in the city June 7, June 8 and June 10. Severe storms across portions of Arkansas brought a record 4.58 inches in rainfall to the city June 7. The previous record of 4.17 inches in a day was set in 1899. By June 8, over eight inches of rain had fallen in Fort Smith, making it the wettest city in the country so far this week in comparison with other cities with 50,000 or more residents, according to local weather reports. Though June 9 was dry, more flash flooding was reported during heavy rainfall the morning of June 10.

Shaffer said in a powerpoint presentation at Monday’s meeting he was notified at around noon June 7 that the east parking lot at Peak was flooded and a custodian’s vehicle was underwater.

“While enroute, I noticed downstream storm drainage was extremely saturated, which initially led me to believe that the downstream drainage was causing the issue,” the report states.
Photos posted to social media during the flooding showed water almost over the doors of the building. In the report, Shaffer states that once he arrived at Peak, he and others “quickly relocated the students, that did not drive, to Barling Elementary. Notifications were sent out to parents at this time of the relocation of students. Within 30 minutes all students were removed from the facility.”

The report states that water entered the Peak center from the entire north side wall, east side entrances and south side main entrance. Shaffer notes in the report that Turn Key Construction Management, the construction manager at risk for the Peak project, was notified of the flooding and arrived onsite to assess the issue.

“On the north side of the facility, the water entered in approximately (15-20 feet) inward along the majority of its entire length,” the report states.

On the east side of the facility, water entered approximately 20-30 feet down the corridors, the unfinished classrooms and the community room space, which are part of phase two of the project and not completed at this time.

“While assessing the north wall it was noticed that the roof downspout, which had a repair on the existing pipe, had failed, allowing a tremendous amount of roof water to enter into the Computer Integrated Lab area along the fire wall,” Shaffer says in the report.

He noted that he contacted Halff Engineering of Texas on the possible solutions and was told by Halff Engineering that the drainage system as constructed should have been able to handle the event with some flooding expected in the east parking lot.

“Once the rains stopped the parking lot began to drain. Facility staff worked afterhours to start removing the water from inside the facility,” the report states.

In an email between Shaffer and Aaron St. Amant, SIT Project Manager with Halff Associates,Shaffer said he was notified by facility staff on June 8 that plywood forms were left inside the junction box, covering one of the 42-inch drain pipes on the property that were installed to help with water issues.

“One other sheet of plywood was also present in the junction box. It is assumed that this plywood was also left in place and gave way under pressure,” Amant noted in the emails.

Turn Key was notified of the plywood and called their sub-contractor, Silco Construction, who built the storm drainage collection box, the emails state. Silco Construction arrived on site to remove the obstruction. Silco employees worked several hours trying to remove the plywood. They used a truck with a strap and chainsaw to remove the plywood due to the amount of water pressure holding the plywood in place, the emails state.

The district’s insurance company and Servpro were both contacted regarding the flooding. The district is continuing to work with Halff Engineering for possible future solutions, Shaffer’s report states. In a memo to Shaffer, St. Amant said the flooding was caused by construction oversight, documented with photos and video.

“While this blockage was caused by negligence, we feel that it is in the best interest of the school system to explore the installation of redundant measures that would prevent this from happening again should a blockage of these pipes occur for any other unforeseen reason inthe future,” St. Amant said.

He notes in an email that Halff “will be taking a hard look at the possible benefits of installation of a detention pond to reduce the amount of water flowing to the newly installed 42- inch double pipes. We can also look at modeling yesterday’s storm event with the pipes blocked as they were so that we can look at whether additional measures could be taken in the event of a blockage in the future.”

Nothing is mentioned in the material from Half about the roof downspout that allowed “a tremendous amount of roof water to enter into the Computer Integrated Lab area along the fire wall” that Shaffer mentioned in his report. Board Member Matt Blaylock questioned this incident. He was told it was a separate incident from the water entering the building from the parking lot, although it happened at the same time. Nothing was stated at the meeting about what had been done or would be done about that.

Shaffer did say during the meeting he believes onething that needs to be done to ensure no future flooding is “rerouting the roof drains.” He did not say if this was to help with water coming in from the parking lot or the roof.

Because a study has not been completed on what is needed to repair problems at the center, no cost estimate was available Monday. Superintendent Terry Morawski said he feels the district needs to run models in current conditions with the state of the building as opposed to “historic conditions and a blocked drain.” Then the administration and the board would be able to look at potential solutions and costs and the implications those would bring.

“We need to bring back solutions with data. Otherwise we are making guesses up here,” Morawski said.

Board Member Phil Whiteaker said that it seems to him after talking to people while campaigning for the board, that for every two positive things heard about Peak Innovation Center, there is one negative.

“Yes, it’s going to cost money, but we have to fix this thing and we have to fix this thing correctly. We do not need to cut corners. We do not need to have any more conversation or negative publicity about such a beautiful asset to our school district,” Whiteaker said.

Peak, opened March 28, was initially set to open Aug. 21, 2021. The $19.076 million regional workforce training facility was constructed from a donated facility at the intersection of Zero Street and Painter Lane in east Fort Smith. In February 2019, the estate of William Hutcheson Jr. donated the former Hutcheson shoe manufacturing building at 5900 Painter Lane to be the Peak site. The 181,710-square-foot building that sits on almost 17 acres at the corner of Zero Street and Painter Lane was projected to save at least $3 million that had been budgeted to buy an existing building for the career center.

Flooding issues were not the first time the center has encountered water issues. Geotechnical and Testing Services, Inc. (GTS) of Fort Smith told the board July 12, 2021, there was migration of water from a higher elevation and that was addressed through plans for grading and a drainage trench in the original design. But an under-slab moisture concern developed after construction began.

Representative said the original concern about water issues was brought up by the general contractor when they began work to install new plumbing and made slab cuts and excavation shortly before February 2021.

“They had some water develop in their trenches, so that’s when they first saw some water and began their inquiry about what the source may be,” noted a GTS representative.

That representative later said they had encountered moisture in original soil borings before any construction began when a geotechnical investigation using several borings within the building footprint and exterior was done in April 2020. Page 24 of a geotechnical engineering report from GTS dated May 15, 2020, explains, “Additionally, due to the impermeable sandstone and shale layer anticipated to be near plan finished subgrade elevations below the future slab sections, we anticipate that the future floor slab will likely have a high moisture content and relative humidity unless site dewatering is successful. It is possible that the moisture within the existing or future floor slab section may cause problems with any adhesives or floor-covering material.”