MELROSE, Mass. -- As school bells rang across New England this past week and most students returned to familiar confines, middle school students in Melrose were scattered at three locations attending classes while their new school takes shape. Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School served the community for more than 70 years, but was subject to chronic flooding. The community made the difficult choice to replace it and next fall a wonderful new school will open, on higher ground and with defenses in place intended to make flooding a thing of the past.
The school was flooded six separate times from 1992 to 2002. Due to its location across from Ell Pond and within a floodplain zone, the possibility of flooding became a constant worry of school administrators every time the area experienced heavy rains.
“About every ten years or so, there seems to be a major flood,” Principal Tommy Brow said. As time went on, concerns about the safety and financial security of the old building grew.
The basement of the middle school housed a variety of critical functions, including the cafeteria, the kitchen and the heating system. The concrete structure was deteriorating and the presence of moisture made the building susceptible to mold growth. The largest flooding event, which closed the school for several days, cost the school district $760,000 in repairs, clean-up and sanitation.
The increasing costs and substantial health concerns after every flooding event made it clear that significant changes needed to be made. In 2003, the Middle School Planning Committee decided to tear down the old building and build a new facility.
“Almost everyone wanted to save the old building,” Brow said. “The problem was it had a basement and the cost of renovation far outweighed the cost of new construction.” Even if the school district decided to renovate, there would still be a strong possibility of future flooding.
In May, 2006, New England was inundated with heavy rainfall and communities all over eastern Massachusetts experienced devastating floods. Melrose, unfortunately, was no exception. Area homes and businesses were affected, but not the Melrose Middle School. The building was in the midst of construction and due to new flood-resistant construction techniques, was not damaged.
During construction, the entire structure was elevated so the first floor sits above the floodplain. New drainage systems were installed and retaining areas were built into the design. And, the building will not have a basement, one of the major problems with the old school. The estimated completion date for the project is September 2007.
The lack of damage to the school during the May flooding is strong evidence that the new Middle School will be safer and more cost effective in the future.
The Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School will not only serve sixth to eighth grade students, but also the entire community. In addition to flood control measures, the new construction includes Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant structures like handicap ramps and elevators, giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy the new school.
When asked about the new school’s overall impact on the community, Principal Brow said, “I believe, in some ways, it will serve as a civic center. A new school, a new 900-plus seat auditorium, a new gymnasium, a new cafeteria, etc. It is quite a building!”
While it was difficult for residents to see the historic building go, the new Melrose Middle School is already proving to be a safe – and dry – place the entire community can use.
FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA became part of the U.S. ...