Construction work blamed for flooding

Heavy rains this week in Ascension Parish highlighted drainage problems near Gonzales Primary School that a few flooded residents and landowners blamed on a $9.2 million school construction project.

While school officials disputed their project was at fault and city officials cautioned Ascension Parish was hit by widespread flooding that prompted flash flood warnings, the officials said drainage improvements are planned in the area that may provide some relief in the future.

The massive storm front out of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico dropped 9.84 inches of rain in Gonzales between Tuesday and Friday mornings, the National Weather Service reported.

Much of the rain, 7.24 inches, fell between Tuesday evening and Thursday morning. By midmorning Wednesday, water was 4 inches deep in the home of Cheryl Ruiz, 52, and Kathy Sparks, 49, at West Roosevelt Street and Felicity Avenue.

“We’ve been flooded three times since May,” Ruiz said during an interview on her carport Wednesday while water still stood in the house.

Ruiz and Sparks, who have rented the residence for three years, attributed the house flooding to the higher elevation of a new, nearly finished classroom building across West Roosevelt from their house, as well as construction damage to culverts and trash left by workers.

“When they started construction on that school is when we started flooding,” Ruiz said.

Wayne Cannon, 55, owner of the house, which had been his grandmother’s, said he removed 25-year-old carpet in May during the first of three incidents of house-flooding during the past eight months. He said that while the street had flooded in the past, the house stayed dry.

“Something is stopped up somewhere, hampering the drainage, but we hadn’t found the problem yet,” Cannon added.

Lisa Bailey, a dentist who has a practice behind Ruiz and Sparks’ home, did not get water in her dental office, but three neighboring properties she owns on the same block were flooded.

“In the 20 years I have been there, I have never seen it flood like that,” she said Friday.

While Ascension Parish underwent widespread street and yard flooding from the storm, parish and city officials reported only a few flooded homes.

Still, school officials said, the West Roosevelt area had flooding problems before construction began on their current project, which is part of a $100 million school improvement bond issue voters approved in 2009.

Begun in 2011, the Gonzales Primary project calls for the new addition and demolition of an old third-grade classroom building on West Roosevelt, which would flood at times after heavy rains, school system spokesman Johnnie Balfantz said.

“There is nothing we’re doing that is making it worse,” he said.

Jackie Baumann, chief engineer for the city Department of Public Works, said the school system is planning to put in new drainage pipes along West Roosevelt and the city is going to help with downstream improvements and ditch cleaning.

“We’re working closely with the city on this project and hope to add some relief to that area,” Balfantz added.

Ruiz said Friday that her son brought a pump that got the water out of her house Wednesday night and kept it out Thursday when flood waters returned. She said she and her family are watching for more rain and waiting for her landlord to remove the wet carpet.

“That’s all we can do is sit and wait,” Ruiz said.