WAVERLY, Tenn. (Oct. 19, 2021) – A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team is on a mission to help officials determine if it’s best to replace or repair two schools in the wake of flooding in Waverly, Tennessee.
USACE has a broad set of missions and capabilities. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, emergency response teams take on the mission of providing assistance within its authority, to help save human life, prevent immediate human suffering, and/or mitigate property damage. They are also charged with aiding in debris clearing, providing temporary roofing, and other efforts to stabilize the situation.
While emergency preparedness and response are primarily a state and local responsibility, some disasters exceed the capabilities of state and local interests. In Waverly, the flash flooding of Trace Creek decimated many homes and businesses. Accumulating 10 to 15 inches of rainfall in under 12 hours, Waverly Elementary and Junior High Schools were severely devastated; displacing more than 1,100 students.
Following the flash flood, the Emergency Operations Team along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived on site to assess the damage. The USACE team consisted of two engineers from the Louisville District: Mechanical Engineer Charles Spencer and Structural Engineer Matt Stivers, and three from the Nashville District; Mission Manager Jamie James, Cost Engineer Omar Acevedo, and Senior Electrical Engineer Sulaiman “Sam” Jaser.
The team has 30 days to assess all the damages sustained to the elementary and junior high schools. They will provide to FEMA, cost estimates for repairing the schools, rebuilding the schools, and determining costs associated with repurposing existing structures to house current students until a permanent location is ready.
To move forward with any repairs, replacement, or renovation, FEMA must receive an estimate of costs for alternatives identified by the recovery partners, including Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), Humphreys County Board of Education, and Tennessee Department of Education. To gain an accurate picture of costs, each engineer on the team has a specific role.
As a structural engineer, Stivers is responsible for assessing the damage to the structural bones of each building. This includes windows, doors, load bearing walls, the foundation, and the roof. He arrived on site Tuesday for his first experience on the emergency team.
“The first day on site, I was just in shock and awe with the amount of damage, Stivers said.
Spencer, mechanical engineer on site, is tasked with surveying and assessing all mechanical structures such as the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, plumbing systems, fire suppression and protection units, and the building controls. He is no stranger to responding to flood emergencies and previously supported emergency operations in Virginia and the Virgin Islands during the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“Our role is to be an objective, professional source of technical understanding. We have the ability to go in and assess, pretty quickly, the damage,” Spencer said.
One of the more dangerous tasks is assigned to Jaser, the electrical engineer. Jaser’s role is to inventory all electrical systems and devices. While the local school system and utilities departments are tasked with de-energizing the damaged circuits, caution is still needed.
Once the engineers have compiled their data, they pass the analyses onto Acevedo, the cost engineer. He collects their data and combines it with his own inventory of damaged items including equipment, cabinets, flooring, doors, and exterior improvements. Acevedo’s report is then forwarded to James, the mission manager, for final review, inclusion in the written report, and ultimately, submission to FEMA along with suggestions on possible next steps.
“We’re really working with local, state, and federal partners to solve this in a three-phase approach suggested by the Humphreys County Board of Education. The first phase involves finding a suitable temporary location for more than 1,100 teachers and students. It’s important to maintain as much continuity as possible this school year, so the students don’t lose more than what COVID-19 already took from them,” explained James.
Phase one was completed by the Board of Education in September. Displaced students are currently in place, with the same teachers and classmates they had during the start of the year, providing some degree of stability amid this disruption.
Phase two is currently underway. The Humphreys County Board of Education identified the former Acme Boot building as a promising location possessing enough square footage to house all the students from both the elementary and junior high schools. If the purchase is approved, renovations will begin immediately, placing students in the temporary location by the 2022-2023 school year.
Phase three, if approved, may include the construction of two new schools, built on higher ground, away from the flood plain. Upon completion of the schools, the Acme building would get converted into the school district hub, housing the Humphreys County Board of Education, technology center, and school bus depot.
The team wrapped up on-site operations, Friday, Oct. 15 and is now focusing on compiling its observations. The team will provide findings to FEMA regarding the damages to facilities, estimated costs to remediate the damages and a screening-level assessment of three school relocation site alternatives. This information will be used by FEMA and state and local agencies to make informed decisions in the long-term recovery for the Humphreys County school system.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.