By Jeff Gallatin
North Olmsted city and school district officials are discussing the possible use of properties located near Pine and Chestnut schools as retention areas to help deal with flooding issues in the community.
City officials revealed the talks to a crowd of about 150 people during a June 18 public meeting about flooding issues held in the Springvale Country Club ballroom. The property located near Pine School is owned by the board of education while the Chestnut School property is owned by the city, but city officials indicate they would want to work with the schools on any project that near a school.
Officials set the June 18 meeting as a followup to one in mid-May that took place three days after massive May 12 rainstorms dropped 4.44 inches of rain on North Olmsted. The storms caused major flooding and damage from stormwater and sewer backups in homes, businesses and other properties. Many of the several hundred people attending the several-hour May 15 meeting vented their anger and demanded solutions from city officials for problems during both the May 12 storm and for other flooding problems in years past, saying the city was not doing enough to solve the ongoing issue of flooding.
Although some residents again vented their frustration and anger at officials during the June 18 meeting, it was a shorter and calmer meeting as Mayor Kevin Kennedy, North Olmsted safety-service Director Don Glauner and representatives from Hazen and Sawyer, the engineering firm that has worked on the more than $40 million renovation of the city’s sanitary sewer plant, all spoke about ways the city is working on the flooding issues. The plant renovations have led to a jump in sewer rates in recent years. Much of the renovations are in response to federal Environmental Protection Agency mandates.
Both in the presentations and when he responded to residents’ questions about what the city is doing to address flooding problems, Kennedy would stay on the idea of building additional above-ground water retention areas. In theory, retention areas essentially hold water until a storm subsides, then releasing it to head toward creeks and other bodies of water.
Some residents have questioned their effectiveness or wondered if they have caused problems in areas that didn’t have them before. Kennedy noted the city has recently built underground retention ponds on Dover Center and Clague roads.
In acknowledging the discussions between the city and schools, both Kennedy and school district officials noted they have only held talks so far, with no decisions having been made.
“A key to it right now is that we are talking and will continue to try and work together on issues,” Kennedy said later.
After West Life asked North Olmsted schools Superintendent Mike Zalar for comment, he released this statement.
“The possibility of retention basins at Chestnut and Pine are proposals by the City to address flooding issues in those areas of the City,” he said. “The Board of Education and the district would work with the City to make sure that any potential plans are coordinated with current and future school facility plans to best serve the residents of North Olmsted.”
Lee Matia, one of many Sweetbriar Drive residents hit again by flooding, said the water seems to cross the school and playground property and flow toward the nearby homes. He said many residents don’t believe swales and other current measure do any good. Matia was interested when told about the talks.
“It’s possible it could help the flooding problems with an above-ground retention area,” he said. “They certainly have to work on doing something. It just seems anything like this takes a long time to get done.”
Zalar has said at other school district meetings, the district is aware of flood-related problems in the city and is attempting to factor that into district plans for building a new combined grades 6-12 school on the current middle and high school campuses to replace the more than 80-year-old middle school and more than 50-year-old high school. It also is talking about possibly adding a new athletics complex and performing arts center as part of any ballot issue for the new school. A second phase under discussion could close several of the other seven remaining schools and create neighborhood schools.
‘They’ve got a lot going on right now,” Kennedy said after the meeting. “The district is aware people are concerned about flooding and their homes, at the same time as they’re talking about making major changes in the district. As a city we will continue to work with the school district to deal with issues which affect the entire community.”
During the meeting, city officials noted that many North Olmsted residents also were receiving mailings from a law firm seeing if they were interested in joining a class action lawsuit seeking damages for the flooding.
Many residents continued to express their frustration, saying the city wasn’t doing enough or wasn’t taking the right actions, with one resident advocating holding a “meeting run by residents to seek possible solutions.”