100-year flood plain slows school-expansion project

Adjustments to comply with flood plain requirements on a new Dolores school-expansion project could push up the price, officials report.

A portion of the eastern campus lies within the 100-year flood plain identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, explained Dolores Town Manager Ryan Mahoney. "They designed three of the new buildings without considering the flood plain."

"We just had to update our flood plain ordinance, and that is getting handed down through FEMA because of all of the flooding in the Northeast and (the) Katrina disaster" Mahoney said. "The standards are in part because insurance agencies have been paying out the nose for damages in flooded areas. This area has not flooded since 1911, so statistically we are due."

The finished floor elevation for the new vo-ag building and science classrooms and labs must be a foot above the 100-year flood plain, he said. Fill would need to be brought in to raise the elevation of the new buildings, which would be higher than existing structures at the school because those buildings are grandfathered - exempt from new flood regulations.

Mahoney explained that the town approves a flood plain permit for development in those areas. The school district has three options: They can appeal to FEMA for a Letter of Map Amendment, and if granted, it "would allow them to build as if they are not in the flood plain" with no changes.

Or the school district can apply for a local variance and show "findings of fact proving hardship." The procedure is held as a hearing where evidence is presented to town trustees and they make a decision.

The third option is to re-design the east-end improvements of the school project to comply with FEMA standards.

The builders and architects are debating whether to apply for a variance, explained Re-4A business manager Karen Andrews. They must have a mitigation plan such as extensive waterproofing, and also gain approval from the town board, which issues the flood plain permit.

"It could increase the price, and it is causing some delays," Andrews said. "It is not stopping the project; it is just moving ahead slower while we get over this hurdle."

Demolition of the vo-ag was expected to be completed by the end of the summer, but the work will be delayed and continue into the school year. Meanwhile, the remodel and upgrades of the elementary school and locker rooms are moving forward on schedule because they are not in the 100-year flood plain, Andrews said.

A flood plain consultant has been evaluating the situation at the campus and will advising school officials whether seeking a variance is a worthwhile option.

Dolores Attorney Mike Green told the board that the flood plain variance is a quasi-judicial procedure where evidence and facts are presented to the town board of trustees, and then they make a decision.

"You have to base your decision on the evidence they present at the meeting and follow the rules of the FEMA variance procedure," he said.

The $6 million school expansion project is still expected to be completed by 2014.