TIVERTON — Water that has ponded many inches deep in the parking lot behind Pocasset Elementary School during rainy weather should soon be gone, thanks to action last Monday night by the Town Council.
After ground testing last week established that there is no ledge or rock that would interfere with plans to install an underground drainage system, the council gave the go-ahead to Clement Rose, a local excavator, to fix the problem.
Work will start this coming Monday, said Department of Public Works Director Stephen Berlucchi, whose department will be monitoring the project.
At its meeting two weeks ago, the council had voted unanimously to waive bidding requirements and cap the costs for fixing the water problem at $14,250, to be borne equally by the town and school department. At its meeting March 26, the school committee had agreed to pay half the costs.
Mr. Rose, said Council member Jim Arruda, will be installing a catch basin six feet deep and six feet across in the school parking lot, then running a 12 inch pipe 270 feet east back into the Pocasset baseball field, where another catch basin will be located.
Mr. Rose will be providing all materials for the project “at cost,” said Mr. Arruda, and will be beginning work on Monday, April 29 on the three day project. “It’s a win-win situation,” he said.
There had been concerns, now resolved by the testing last week, that ledge and boulders would make underground drainage by a piping system impossible, and that an above-ground swale or sluiceway would have to be constructed.
There’s plenty of water to get rid of. Jim O’Dell, who has strongly advocated for a fix to the problem in appearances before the council, inspected the Pocasset ponding in early March, as did members of the Budget Committee and some members of the Town Council.
“The area [covered by water] was over 100 feet long,” Mr. O’Dell said. “It looked like a lake.”
Behind the backstop of the ball field east of and adjacent to the parking lot, he said, “the water was over 18 inches deep. The entire driveway was under water.”
It reached from the parking lot to the school building. “There is evidence on the foundation of the school,” he said, “that the water had sat against it for a significant amount of time, and it is already undermining the driveway. It’s only a matter of time before it undermines the sidewalks as well.”
“As a taxpayer,” Mr. O’Dell told the council last month, “we spent $10 million renovating that school only a few years ago. This is an emergency.”
A child could trip, he said, land face down in the water, and the result would be liability on the part of the school and town.
He told the council he had obtained an estimate from Mr. Rose, who said the repair could be done for $14,250, a project that would entail the installation of a six foot storm catch basin with 270 feet of 12 inch drain.
As the debate about the ponding progressed before the council, Mr. Berlucchi expressed skepticism about Mr. Rose’s proposal. He said that there is not enough of a grade change, between where the water ponds and the site for the beginning of “a catch basin/piped drainage system,” and the place where the outlet would be located 270 feet away, to allow for a flow of water. The pitch, he says, is only “only half the pitch required for flow.” Mr. Rose declined comment.
How the problem got started in the first place is a matter of some dispute.
Town Administrator James Goncalo says that when Pocasset School was being renovated, the contractor removed a set of stairs used by children to get from a residential area to the south known as Arbor Terrace to the school property.
For reasons that are not clear, a sluiceway or swale — different terms are used — was then installed to handle water that the removal of the stairs had caused to flow, evidently towards the parking lot.
The swale directed water to the baseball diamond, and in particular the home plate area, an area that some say has always been bit soggy and damp and below grade.
Then, shortly before opening day of Little League, in April of 2011, someone poured concrete into the swale, which had the effect of re-diverting the water back onto the school parking area.
Superintendent of School William Rearick says it was the town, and Mr. Goncalo said it was the Little League. Mr. Goncalo said he directed Mr. Berlucchi to re-direct the water so it would divert back to Main Road.
From the back-and-forth accounts that are given, it is not entirely clear who — the schools, the town, the contractor — caused what, or when.
If it’s the contractor for the school construction project who’s responsible, said Mr. Goncalo, or if only a lawsuit between the parties would resolve the matter, “legal costs would far exceed the costs for the method by which we’re adjusting the problem.” He was referring to the decision by the town ands school department to split the costs for the fix.
Two council meetings ago, Councilor Joan Chabot said, “whether it’s the school’s water or the town’s water doesn’t really matter. It’s rain water, and I think we need to work jointly in resolving this issue, because the water has to go somewhere, and there’s no other place on the school property where it can go, because it poses a safety threat to vehicles as well as school children.”