Drainage issue prompts modifications to Mount Mercy athletic complex site
Work could close Tomahawk Park in Cedar Rapids for six months
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Flash flooding has been a known issue along E Avenue NE for years, but design and construction of a new Mount Mercy University athletic complex has amplified drainage woes in the College District, according to city officials.
It’s prompted modifications to the $16 million athletic complex project and spurred city officials to examine its own fixes for the area’s stormwater problems.
“We were deep into our project and became aware there was some issues in the calculations as it relates to the 100-year flood plane,” said Laurie Hamen, president of Mount Mercy University. “We asked our engineers to fix the problem.”
The engineer on the project, Shive-Hattery, will be handling the fixes, she said. The fixes include expanding a drainage channel, new stormwater detention basins, and lowering the elevation of the grass intramural field, as well as other changes on the complex site, Hamen said. The detention basin work will mean disruptions at nearby Tomahawk Park and possibly the adjacent ball fields used by Cedar Rapids schools, according to city officials and city documents.
Hamen said the athletic complex will still open on time — Sept. 1 — and Mount Mercy will not incur costs for the changes. The timeline for the changes still is in flux, she said.
The 22-acre Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex, 902 17 St. NE, will provide homes for men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s track and field, baseball and softball. The project, which saw construction begin in June 2016, is one of the largest the area has seen in years.
The city of Cedar Rapids became involved after being contacted by a neighboring business, said Sandy Pumphrey, a Cedar Rapids flood mitigation engineer. Before construction, the athletic complex grounds were vacant flat fields, Pumphrey said. When it rained, water would “pond” on site, but now flows off, he said.
“Mount Mercy, when it came in, made some amazing improvements to the site,” Pumphrey said. “Our understanding is when they moved dirt and moved things around, it may have upset what was there.”
Hardest hit by the water runoff was Scott Turkal’s property that houses CV Insulation, 1862 E Ave. NE. Turkal’s property had been at a higher elevation than the neighboring athletic complex property; now it is lower, Turkal said.
Since construction began, rain water has been pooling up to Turkal’s building, he added. He wound up involving an attorney to force attention to the problem, and now the issues, at least on paper, have been resolved, he said. He has a signed agreement for Mount Mercy to install a retaining wall on his property, a new fence and regrade his grounds so it slopes into a drainage swale, he said.
“So far it’s all good,” Turkal said. “They addressed the issue and put it in writing. It’s all positive.”
Turkal said the complex itself is a great addition for the area.
Others say the neighborhood and drainage will be better off when the project is done.
“The plan and execution of the plan will positively impact the drainage in the area,” said Tom Podzimek, who also owns neighboring property.
Earlier this month, the Cedar Rapids City Council gave permission for Mount Mercy to use Tomahawk Park, a neighborhood pocket park with a small grassy area, a picnic table and a playground with slides, swings and monkey bars, to address the stormwater problems.
The surface area of the park will be dug out to a lower elevation in order to serve as a detention basin for water runoff, Pumphrey said. Normally, the grounds will be dry, with mowed grass and the playground equipment will be returned or replaced, he said.
The timeline still is in flux, but when work begins the park could be out of commission for six months, he said. The park should have the same amenities when finished, he said.
Two other detention basins are planned, one upstream from the athletic complex and in an adjacent park owned by the Cedar Rapids Community School District, Pumphrey said. It is not clear how those plans will impact school uses.
The CEMAR recreation trail, which runs near the complex, may need “a little surgery” to accommodate one of the detention basins, but nothing significant, Pumphrey said.
Pumphrey said the city is researching its own solutions to the area’s stormwater issues, unrelated to the athletic complex. The city has identified a need for a regional detention basin that would cover 3.7 acres and be 3.7 feet deep. Officials still are considering whether to work with Mount Mercy to expand the detention basin in Tomahawk Park or build one separately in the future, Pumphrey said.
Pumphrey said the city is not responsible for costs for the modifications connected to the athletic complex, but said the city would pay its share if it partnered on the detention basin.
E Avenue Upgrades
Also, E Avenue NE is on deck for a street repair project, possibly next year, which could also impact stormwater flows, Pumphrey said.
Olga Hauder, 77, of Cedar Rapids, lives near the corner of 19th Street and E Avenue NE, where flash flooding has been an ongoing problem for years. Water rushes down the sloping street and pools where the ground plateaus at the intersection.
She said she’s noticed workers removing weeds and adding rocks to a drainage ditch along where 19th Street ends at the edge of the CEMAR trail and athletic complex construction site. She supports improvements if it fixes drainage issues, but hopes Tomahawk Park isn’t a casualty.
“My kids grew up playing there,” she said. “And dogs like it.”
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