The basement of the Shelby building, which has been closed following a flood last February, is scheduled to be open to classes again in the fall of 2020.
According to campus architect Justin Thompson, the flood began in late February as the result of accumulated groundwater around Shelby. It was made worse by frequent rainfall throughout the month that reached 12 inches of rainwater. Water began to enter the building through a crack running along the base of the south wall and spread across the rest of the basement.
The basement was closed to students as soon as the flood was detected, and the administration sent a team to mitigate the potential damage. In order to relieve water pressure and reduce the chance of structural damage, they chose to drill several holes along the exterior wall of the building beneath the loading dock, allowing the buildup of water to drain. Sandbags were placed to control the flow of the water already inside the building, while most furniture and equipment was removed. What was left behind was raised above the water level, which was slightly under an inch deep.
The attempts at mitigating the flood’s damage was partially successful, completely blocking off lab 029 with sandbags before there was any water intrusion. The rest of the building, however, suffered significant damage to the sheetrock, flooring, insulation, and electrical system. Damaged materials have since been removed and electrical repairs completed.
Shelby’s basement primarily housed classes and laboratories for physics and chemistry, as well as several math classes, which have had to be temporarily relocated as a result of the flood.
The faculty senate raised concerns that the flood had the risk of causing serious structural damage to the building. Their other concerns included sitting water, which can be a health risk due to mold growth, and other biological hazards that might result from the flood reaching chemicals or pathogens inside the labs located in Shelby. In March, the senate unanimously passed bill 431 with the goal of investigating their concerns and disclosing the information publicly. Representatives from the faculty senate could not be reached for comment as to what action, if any, was taken as a result of this bill.
While there are signs posting warnings about biohazards in at least one of the basement labs, all were thoroughly sealed and contained above the low water level. According to Thompson, outside engineers were brought in to assess the structural damage done to the building and declared it safe. Meanwhile, anything that had suffered water damage was removed and fans were used to dry the basement thoroughly. Extra care was taken to prevent air recirculation from the basement to the rest of Shelby, and affected areas were carefully sanitized to prevent the risk of mold.
According to the UAH vice president for finance and administration Todd Barré, the Alabama Board of Trustees approved a budget of $1.7 million for repair and improvement in September. These funds came from UAH’s central plant fund, which covers unexpected repairs to buildings and property. Construction is set to take place through June 2020, after which the basement will be open to classes again.
According to Barré, several steps are being taken to prevent flooding in the future. A team of engineers, contractors, and university representatives chose to rework the storm drain system. Their goal is to redirect runoff water that would feed the groundwater and add waterproofing to the building repairs. They will also install a number of wells around the building. These will collect water and be monitored during weather events to assess the water buildup and the risk to the building.
As it stands, despite the damage done and the complications coming from relocating classes the Shelby basement should be working and improved by the beginning of the next school year.