Jul. 23—GOSHEN — With just over two weeks remaining until the new school year's Aug. 9 start date, about 30 community members gathered at the new Goshen Intermediate School on the city's southwest side Thursday to discuss recent flooding issues connected to the school and surrounding area.
The school, which will serve grades five and six, is part of a $65 million referendum project approved by district voters back in 2018. The recently-completed facility is set to have its official dedication on Monday.
Helping to kick off Thursday's meeting was Andrew Beerman, principal engineer with Commonwealth Engineers, the company which designed the new school's storm water retention system.
Beerman was invited to speak in response to the flooding and water retention issues that occurred in the area surrounding the new school following an extensive system of thunderstorms that swept through the Goshen area back in June.
"So, the flooding that we're talking about...we've done a lot of research on and came up with a few ideas, and they mostly revolve around the fact that the rainfall was extremely intense, and there was some pipe cloggage that caused a lot of issues as well," Beerman said of the flooding at the site. "We have already made some adjustments, and we are going to continue to work on more."
According to Beerman, as designed, the school site currently includes three new water detention basins which have significantly increased the site's overall ability to handle storm water runoff.
"We basically took every spare area on the site and tried to turn that into as much detention volume as possible," Beerman said. "Where there was probably 4,000 gallons worth of storage on the property before, there is now 4 million gallons."
Beerman said the company intentionally added more water detention capacity to the site than is warranted by just the site itself, as there is a significant amount of acreage to the north and south of the property that has the potential to bring additional storm water to the site.
"North of the highway is about 35 acres, and to the south there's about 101 acres coming to a culvert that goes underneath Ind. 119, so we took the stance of instead of using the typical set-up for a three-inch rainfall, we used a 100-year storm and modeled that throughout the system, and how it all functions together as one system," Beerman said. "So, the rainfalls that we had, it's not just the depth of the rainfall, it's how fast it's falling. It's kind of like a bucket instead of a hose. And once the clogging starts occurring, then it's going to fill up the backside of that pipe."
Beerman noted that a significant amount of the pipe clogging that occurred during the flooding was caused by loose straw that had been used to cover the recently-planted grass at the site.
"Because of the construction going on at these culverts underneath the drives, there was a lot of straw out there," Beerman said. "It just happened to be when the grass was planted — bad timing — and the straw got swept up with it as well, and clogged some of those pipes that go underneath there, as well as the final outlet."
For his part, Dustin Sailor, director of public works for the city, noted that the West Goshen area has had a long history of flooding issues which the city has been working to address for decades.
"Back in the 1980s and before that, West Goshen was in a condition where boats were floating in residential neighborhoods," Sailor said. "So, back in 1986, there was study that was prepared that dealt with drainage. Some of those improvements were made. On C.R. 31, for example, there's a large detention basin that the county built out there. That helped Goshen quite a bit. There's also a big ditch along C.R. 36, and that takes it out to the river.
"And we're also doing some other improvements, and continuing to work toward that original plan from 1986, which was updated in 2012," he added. "A lot of that deals with property acquisition and funding to make those storm water improvements. When the school bought this property, this was one of the opportunities to make some drainage improvements in this area."
Upon opening up the discussion to the public, one of the questions asked of the group was whether they still felt the site was a good site for the new school given the flooding that had occurred, to which Beerman responded in the affirmative.
"I mean, from a transportation perspective, a geographic perspective, all of those, had we not had this rainfall that exceeds 100-year intensity, I don't know that we'd be asking the question otherwise," Beerman said.
Alan Metcalfe, associate superintendent for Goshen Community Schools, offered a similar sentiment regarding the adequacy of the site.
"In consultation with the architects, and some preliminary engineering, and after doing soil samples, and thinking about how we could shape and hold that water, yeah, we felt like this was a good site for a school," Metcalfe said, "because it is actually helping to solve some of the flooding issues that you as a community have seen."
Speaking again to the recent flooding, Beerman reiterated that the rainfall event was well out of the norm, and should not be a regular thing moving forward.
"This was several days in a row of very heavy rain, and there was over a half inch within a 15-minute span," Beerman said. "Now, had those pipes not been plugged, I don't think that we would have seen the flooding on the street. It's still going to fill up the basins on the site, but that is meant to benefit the city, not the school, necessarily."
Sailor also noted that at the time of the flooding event, the storm water retention system at the site had not been fully completed yet.
"Not only were the pipes under the road somewhat plugged, but the basin wasn't completed yet," Sailor said. "So, it was not 100% prepared for a storm event like this. It was close. Within a week's time, they would have had that in there. It's just the storm beat them to the project."
Also asked of the group was whether the type of soil at the site — some in the audience suggested they'd heard much of the soil was clay — would allow for proper drainage, to which Beerman again responded in the affirmative.
"We did about 55 soil borings on here, and it's actually mostly sand, and that's the case in a lot of areas around here, too," Beerman said. "We did infiltration testing, and before we even moved forward with the project, we looked at the ground water level over a long period of time as well. ... So, the groundwater's low, and right at the surface, there's kind of a silty sand layer, and then underneath that it's sand pretty much as far down as we go."
Some in the audience also raised the question of whether the retention ponds will always have standing water in them, noting in particular concerns about bad smells coming from the basins when they contain water, and the increased presence of mosquitoes.
"After a 100-year rain event, it would be in there for about 24 hours, slowly going down," Beerman said in response. "So, if it's just a normal rainfall, something that happens on a normal occasion, it's not going to be there for more than hours."
Rounding out the questions discussed Thursday was an inquiry into who would be responsible for keeping the drains and pipes at the site cleared moving forward, given the flooding that occurred when the pipes were partially blocked with straw.
In response, Tom Boomershine, director of facilities for GCS, noted that keeping the drains cleared will be the responsibility of the school corporation.
Along those lines, he noted that the corporation will have a dedicated groundskeeper at the site to do daily inspections of the drains, basins and pipes in addition to his other regular duties.
John Kline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 240315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.