The Weather at Green & Main
It just could not stop raining in June. We’re not talking the standard ½-inch flush that cleans city streets while households sleep, leaving the air smelling fresh in the morning. No, we’re boasting serious downpours that dump upwards of five inches of rain in twenty-four hour cycles and repeatedly interrupt our planned work days, while also putting officials and drivers on the alert for early morning street closings.
Mother Nature has been busy exceeding all sorts of records, and construction crews have been busy in their accommodation. This has held true at the pilot project building. One can only laugh, perhaps, at the construction delays caused by an overload of rainwater, given that one of our project’s main assertive goals is to provide this property with maximum stormwater management and release.
Much to be Done
Before we reclaim the site, amending the soil and establishing bio-systems to capture storm water and to encourage infiltration, the addition must be completed. This includes tuck-pointing and waterproofing the subterranean concrete block walls of the existing building. Protecting the building’s foundation from bulk water intrusion and sub-surface water pressure helps to establish an effective basis for high-performance rehabilitation of the structure. This is not such an easy task when the over-dig for the basement serves to generate a moat regularly, thereby limiting access to the work zone.
The geo-technical soil analysis did prepare us for slow infiltration of water into layers of Wisconsin Clay, but not during construction, nor nine feet below grade. While we have taken precautions to control erosion from the site, no plans account for the impact recurrent downpours have on the productivity of construction. So each morning, submersible pumps would dispel the growing brown pool of water through multi-colored hoses, generating enough white noise to dampen the sound of the nearby interstate. The process was something to watch. The continuous ingenuity exhibited by Jason Anderson, Silent Rivers’ site-supervisor, and the craftsmen from Atlas Masonry, never ceased to amaze me. Each morning they restored temporary tents to protect the fresh mortar, using concrete blocks and pallets to work above the flooded muck as the pumps churned below.
Inside the foundation walls we encountered additional challenges: unanticipated water pooling within the basement. The building’s lower level lacked capacity to shed rain water, functioning as a wading pool without a drain – never mind that the recently poured basement floor includes eight drains that exist to receive heat pump condensate and protect the lower level in the event of equipment or plumbing failure. During the finishing of the cement floor, temporary drain caps were removed by tradesmen and one drain, located within the addition, opens to the sky. Typically, such a detail wouldn’t cause issue, as the drains would connect and discharge into the municipal system. Of course, not in our case!
The city’s sewer remains cracked, disallowing the project to connect to public works until repairs are made – we discovered this dilemma in late spring. So with pending grant deadlines and increasing financial pressures, construction pressed on. The conditions: the six-inch access pipe terminates just beyond the southeast corner of the building. Stubbed-out and capped, the pipe awaits connection to public works. In the meanwhile, the building lacks capacity to drain. The result: eight unexpected puddles in the basement. However, a quick response with a late-night remedy was in the works. Jason Anderson, knowing the drains were not in working order, made a 10 p.m. trip to the job site. He located another pump to remove the water and capped the exterior drain opening to limit access to the network of pipes below.
Weather and Design
From the initial deluge during our groundbreaking ceremony to this recent inundation of storms, we are constantly reminded of the power of nature, and the imperative to design in balance and harmony with natural resources and cycles. Water is an essential resource, not only to the existence of our species, but as a dynamic impact on our shelter and its surroundings. Considering that most every design decision made for the Green & Main Pilot Project evaluates the influence of water on the building and its performance – while reciprocally weighing the impact the building, the site and its use has on this most precious resource – these reminders are quite apropos. They help encourage and reinforce a stewardship ethic that is central to our initiative.
- Chaden Halfhill is an entrepreneur and visionary of the Green & Main Initiative. He likes to reclaim and repurpose, then go out for lunch.