Tag: flood (page 1 of 2)

25 Year Old Library Time Capsule Opened Today

Cedar Rapids Public Library time capsule from 1985, opened June 29, 2010.

The time capsule at the now former Cedar Rapids Public Library was uncovered and opened this morning (Tuesday, June 29) after being buried since 1985, when the library building was built. Evidently it took several years of trying to pass a super-majority vote by citizens to fund the new library, which replaced the original Carnegie Library location at 3rd Avenue and 5th Street SE, now a part of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

The capsule was buried about five feet down, under a triangular planter near the main entrance. The contents, which were all paper materials (brochures, books, newspapers, etc.), were put in a cardboard box, wrapped in a plastic garbage bag, and placed in a baby casket. The casket had begun deteriorating and clearly had filled with water during the flood. All the contents were damp with several areas of mold growth, but in surprisingly good shape for sitting wet for the past two years.

The materials were laid out to look through and view by those attending before being taken to be frozen to halt anymore mold growth until they can be sorted and restored. Contents included a White & Yellow Pages phone book (obviously much more used back in ’85), brochures and literature about most of the local non-profit organizations and cultural venues, some local post cards, and the most interesting documents – reports and plans for major civic projects underway at the time. There was a report on the new airport terminal – which opened up a year later in 1986 – with some fantastic concept renderings of the inside and the front. Unfortunately I could not open to see the inside due to its current condition.

About ten to fifteen people showed up for the time capsule opening, about half from the local news media. Ted [unsure of last name] who was the architect for the 1985 library building was there at the beginning. I was able to talk with him for a few minutes, which was very interesting. He told me about his former firm, Brown Healy Stone & Sauer, which later merged with Howard R Green Co in 2001, after he had already retired.

The opening of the time capsule was the last remnant of the library at this building and site. It functioned as a library for only 23 years from 1985 to 2008, and will now be transformed into an office facility for TrueNorth. While the development of a new central library across from Green Square Park is exciting and ultimately, probably the best decision for the Library’s future, the existing building will always be appreciated for its role as our central library for the past quarter-century. The reinvention of the building into something new, serving a different role, is similar to the story of the old Carnegie Library, which now houses the gift shop, activity rooms, and offices for the art museum. By keeping the building and reusing it, even with additions and aesthetic alterations, its contextual, cultural, and new historical value is preserved for future generations.

The photo above is from the Cedar Rapids Public Library’ Facebook album. See more time capsule photos here.

City Developments

It’s been a busy news week in Cedar Rapids regarded the city’s future and upcoming redevelopment.

New City Manager
On Tuesday night the City Council unanimously voted in favor of hiring current West Des Moines City Manager Jeff Pomeranz for the position here in Cedar Rapids. He’s been lauded by the Council and others for the prosperity and growth West Des Moines has experienced for the past several years. Others have raised the important point that, unlike Cedar Rapids, West Des Moines is a suburb that benefits from the larger city and metro of Des Moines, but does not share the same burden of problems associated with the dominant center city.

There have also been grumbles about the method of choosing Pomeranz, which was done mostly out of public sight. I have have no real objections, but think he would’ve been better received by the public if the process had been more transparent. That said, I’m happy the city was able to fill the position with a qualified individual so quickly and look forward to see what he can do. A balance between good public relations, working well with the Council, and professional leadership and management skills will be critical for the success of any city manager.

Fate of the Smokestack
The historic 171 foot tall Sinclair smokestack will no longer be saved. An analysis of the structure concluded over half of if would need to be taken down by hand, brick by brick, to stabilize it before reconstructing and restoring it. This not only increased cost estimates for the restoration work, but also would risk losing FEMA funding for demolition of the Sinclair industrial site because work would need to be halted at this point until the stack is stabilized. The City Council voted to let the smokestack go and will likely be taken down sometime next week as demolition work continues. It is inevitably time for this piece of Cedar Rapids history to come down. While disappointing, I’m glad an effort was at least made to see if it could be reasonably preserved.

TrueNorth + Library
The biggest news this week in downtown redevelopment was the city’s decision to sell the flood-damaged library to TrueNorth to redevelop for their own use. TrueNorth is vacating its current building at 4th Avenue and 5th Street SE, for construction of a new central library. This stirs suspicion among many citizen skeptics that this was a back-room deal between city leaders and TrueNorth. TrueNorth is selling their property to the city for $7.5 million and offered to pay $250,000 for the old library, in addition to a $10,000 per month lease fee to the city for up to 15 months to stay in its current building while the library is being renovated for the company.

Two other offers were submitted to the city. Intermec (by way of a separate buyer) offered $350,000 for the library, with plans to relocate from their current building across the street. A third offer from Jody Keener of J.K. Properties LLC proposed turning the old library into a toy museum and retail outlet. (I don’t think anyone saw that one coming)

The city calculated the financial tax impact each proposal would have on the city over ten years and determined TrueNorth would provide the most at $1.26 million, Intermec $924,000, and the toy museum, unsurprisingly, only $84,000 (assuming it lasted that long). Additionally TrueNorth said it will invest a minimum of $7.5 million in the building and retain 120 jobs and create 50 new jobs in the future. The Dummermuth family, which intended to purchased and lease the library to Intermec, planned to reinvest $3.8 million in the building and an additional $2.2 million in furniture and equipment. Intermec would retain 252 high-paying jobs downtown.

Now that the decision is made, design and construction work can commence to renovate the former library into an office building to fit the needs of TrueNorth. We will likely see much of the ground floor converted to parking and the second level expanded across the entire building footprint. TrueNorth evidently has suggested they might also have room in the old library for Intermec. To accommodate both companies, considering the current spaces they each occupy, I imagine the library would need to be expanded even more – perhaps even a third story. This is of course all speculation on my part, but if they work together this could turn out to be a very interesting transformation.

Mexican in NewBo
The owner of Papa Juan’s/Stefano’s in northeast Cedar Rapids wants to open another Mexican restaurant at the former Brosh Funeral Home and Chapel at 10th Ave and 3rd Street SE in New Bohemia, but technicalities about part of the building’s historical status will determine if they can. Without a “contributing” historical status they can not benefit from historic tax credits and would be required to raise the building above the flood level. If it goes their way plans are to invest $900,000 in renovations and be open for business within four months of obtaining permits. The effort seem like a far stretch, but having another restaurant – and occupied building – in that area would be great. Read more here

Army Corps’ Flood Protection Feasibility Study
The results emerging from the Army Corps of Engineers’ feasibility study for a flood protection system along the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids are not looking good. The City and the Corps had a public open house today at the Crowne Plaza to present the current status and process of the study and preliminary alternatives they are coming up with. A flood protection system considered economically feasible by the Army Corps of Engineers would only protect the east bank and involve a permanent flood wall in front of downtown.

This plan stands in stark contrast to the City’s preferred plan which includes an extensive combination of earth levys on the west side and away from downtown, permanent walls by industries, and sections of removable flood walls by downtown, Czech Village, and a few access points along the proposed northwest greenway. Cedar Rapids will most certainly need to compromise on the preferred plan if any system is to ever actually get funded and built, but if the Army Corps’ proposed half-protection system is the best we can [maybe] get, it begs the question if it is even worth it. As of now the City is still pushing to get the funding for the comprehensive flood protection system that will maintain a connection between downtown and the river, and provide protection for the west side as well. More information about the system and the city’s preferred plan can be found here. Also check out another post about the flood protection system at Urban Corridor.

Flood Anniversary

This weekend marks the two year anniversary of the 2008 floods that caused destruction across the Midwest and inundated downtown Cedar Rapids and hundreds of city blocks encompassing the older neighborhoods of Time Check, Czech Village, New Bohemia, Rompot, Taylor, and parts of Oakhill-Jackson. The bulk of the event took place on Thursday, June 12 to Friday, June 13, and took out nearly every municipal, county, and federal government buildings along with thousands of individual homes and businesses.

I’m reposting my “one year later” post that I wrote last year that described my experience with the flood working at the Veterans Memorial Building on Mays Island, which was severely flooded.

The Flood – One Year Ago
One year ago today, on Wednesday, June 11, 2008, historic flooding was underway in Cedar Rapids. My third summer as a seasonal employee with the Veterans Memorial Building maintenance crew, I had a very involved, first hand perspective of the flood in downtown and public facilities. Working at the Veterans Memorial Building, better known as City Hall, which sits on Mays Island in the middle of the Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids, I watched the river rise daily and got regular updates and break room commentary on surrounding areas from my elder co-workers who lived outside the city. I remember watching the river rise through downtown the previous summer so up until the day or two before, it really didn’t seem like it was going to be that big of deal. Of course, official crest predictions continued to go up, and an additional downpour that Thursday pushed the river to crest at an absurd 31+ feet, breaking the old record by almost ten feet. Even during the flood and immediately after, I didn’t seem to grasp the enormity of its affect. Originally I figured we could be back in the building clearing out and cleaning up within a few weeks and have the building back up and running. Who would’ve known it’d be a year later, the lower levels cleared out and down to bare-bones, with little more than a possibility of the City offices one day returning.

Preparation at Vets Memorial
At work, the greatest day of urgency was on that Wednesday, June 11, the day before the building and much of downtown were completely overtaken with water. I recall arriving to work around 8am as normal. I walked from the GTC, where I commuted to by bus, past the riverwalk along the eastern bank of the river. The river level had began to rise above the lowest part of the walk, near 4th Avenue. Smulekoff’s, which sits directly next to the river, was clearly taking on water with a number of hoses from the basement pumping it back into the river. Water was also being pumped out of the underground Mays Island parking garage, which had begun to seep in a day or two before. This morning the river level was inches from topping the river wall lining the mid park section of the island and only four or five feet from the road beds of the three bridges.

Underground floodingAs I got into work, water had already begun to seep through the walls of the “underground” – an addition built underneath Second Avenue in the 1960s which connects the basement of the original structure to the underground parkade, also constructed at that time. Originally the location for emergency management and various other offices, the space had been condemned for a number of years due to falling pieces of concrete from the ceiling (below the street), and was essentially a large, half-demoed space used for storage, trash, and recycling sorting. Attempts to block or patch the wall seepage were no good and water quickly began flowing into the public hallway through the underground. We set up some sandbags by underground’s connection to the original building and set up a hefty pump to try to keep it down.

Throughout the day city office workers from upstairs were carting boxes of city legal records and other documents stored in the basement up to the auditorium on the first floor – which of course, turned out to be in harm’s way anyway as the final crest was two feet above the first floor.

I took two or three trips to Public Works in the dump truck to pick up pallets of sandbags that day. Volunteers were working around the clock filling sandbags for city and private use. I had trouble even getting in with the line of cars waiting to get their ten alloted sandbags. City vehicles were able to drive in to be loaded with full pallets. While in line one a woman was handing out free pizza and told us to “Keep up the good work.” As the situation worsened, cooperation and morale ran high.

Returning to the building with my first load, just about noon, I encountered heavy traffic. Congestion around public works and downtown as people rushed to prepare homes and businesses, along with the closure of the 3rd Avenue bridge made a normal five minute trip, take more like 20 or 30 minutes. It had begun raining at that point, making the enduring flooding seem even more dire. When I finally made it to the First Avenue bridge, I pulled into the east alley by the building and started unloading the sandbags around a basement window opening before breaking for a quick lunch in the shop.

Rain clouds cleared in the afternoon as work continued. Lots of people were downtown – many came as onlookers, and many came to help. Two guys who were walking by helped us unload another truck load of sandbags in front of a west side entrance to the mezzanine level. Back to public works for another load – surface level flooding becoming much more apparent in low areas a few blocks from the river. On my last trip back to Mays Island, police were diverting westbound First Avenue around 6th Street West due to water now over the road (in lower areas, not all the way from the river). I was allowed to go through as I was just going to City Hall.

Towards the end of my work day I helped the two night guys move supplies from the basement up to the dining room on the mezzanine level – again a futile effort as this room was entirely submerged the next day. Before leaving the building around 5pm, I went to the roof to get some pictures of the river flooding from all angles. At this point the 3rd Avenue bridge had been closed as water was but a foot from the road bed now. 2nd Avenue bridge was closed about an hour later. Eventually all river crossings in the city were closed except for I-380.

The Crest
The next morning, Thursday, June 12, it was raining hard. I had planned to go into work early but the building and much of downtown had already been completely inundated. That day, at home, we had to deal with rain-related water coming into our basement. My brother Daniel was also hurrying to move guitars and equipment from his recording studio about seven blocks from the river – just in case. He and his business partner had just signed a lease for a larger, more permanent space in downtown Marion so they simply moved much of it to their new location. I went along to help them out in the afternoon as rain was still coming down – and the river still rising.

After finishing up we decided to walk a few blocks toward the river where the water had now reached past the 4th Street railroad tracks in the downtown core. Many National Guard officers were on the scene keeping the public away and out of the water as volunteers continued sandbagging buildings close by. We didn’t stick around very long.

The next few days were to watch and wait. Many businesses outside of downtown were closed as accessibility throughout the city was extremely hampered with 380 being the only river crossing for days. With three of the city’s four collector wells being flooded, conserving water was also critically important. Most businesses and residents obeyed mandatory water restrictions, refraining from doing laundry and showering for days. The Cedar River finally crested at around 31 feet early afternoon on Friday, June 13, taking thousands homes and hundreds of city blocks.

Pretty much confined to the house as my summer job was under water and most businesses remained closed, that Sunday was a less than average Fathers Day, I imagine, for most of the community’s dads. My brothers and I went to see our dad that afternoon out at Kirkwood, where he had spent the past few days reporting news on the flood at KCCK radio. This was my first time crossing the river since the floodwaters had submerged much of downtown, and certainly Mays Island. Though water had already recessed a number of feet, the view from 380 was no doubt dramatic.

Post Flood Clean Up
I finally returned to work the following week on Tuesday, the 17th, meeting my VMC co-workers at the Police Station to start picking up sandbags and debris, along with some guys from the city parking division. As transit serve had not resumed yet, my mom gave me a ride there. After passing a checkpoint many blocks from the station, we drove down blocks of empty streets surrounded by empty houses and no people. It was very surreal.

All downtown bridges were reopened and transit service resumed Wednesday, the 18th, with limited service so I took the bus to work. A temporary transfer site was set up at 4th Ave and 12th Street SE, and buses were not allowed to pick up or drop off any passengers inside the still access-controlled flood zone. Since I was to report back to the police station, they allowed me off with a show of my city badge. With the same crew from the day before, we finished picking up sandbags at the station and then headed across the river to pick up bags at the public library. Private clean up crews were already well underway at the Great America Building across the street and downtown was beginning to buzz as debris piles began filling the curbs.

A few days later my first return to the building was to help take photos of damage. We entered through a side door to the mezzanine off the loading dock ramp. Our view as we entered can be seen in the photo below. Everything inside was covered in mud, plaster and paint falling off the walls, and an unrecognizable darkness. Water still had not receded out of the basement so the mezz was as far down as we could go. Up on the first floor, which had taken on about two feet of water, the old wood auditorium floor was completely ruined as were many artifacts in the Spanish American War Memorial room that served as the VMC office.

Over the next few days as water went down to a foot or two in the basement, we recovered the gas pump we had been using the previous and set it up to pump out the remaining standing water. We now had a couple state troopers for 24/7 security, as we took turns “watching the building” – essentially just refueling the pump whenever it ran out. I spent many long days just sitting by the First Avenue doors watching the cars go by.

Not surprisingly, it took at least a week or two for professional cleanup crews to start picking up Vets Memorial, while many other buildings were already underway. Although I was not in position to actually do any cleanup work, they did need someone from our department there at all times as a go-to person and to unlock and lock the building at the beginning and end of the day. Like watching the pump, many afternoons, evenings, and Saturdays were spent simply sitting around at the building. I got to know our regular Per-Mar security gang, which replaced the state troopers as security. Other than that, the night crew and I spent much of the rest of the summer out at Veterans Memorial Park, by the stadium, which is also owned by the Vets Commission.

After returning to Ames this past year for school, I tried to keep up with recovery news from the Gazette and other sites, but it was hard not to disconnect from the flood. With the few days I was back in town for Thanksgiving and Christmas it was hard to gauge the progress. At spring break time in March, downtown had been pretty well cleaned up and many major businesses had returned. But work continues for smaller businesses and other less visible areas, like New Bohemia, Czech Village and Time Check.

CR Open House #2

The second of three open houses will be held this week to gather public input on the future of flooded city facilities and master planning for Parks & Recreation. This open house will be divided into two different times to be more convenient for more citizens to participate. Both at the Crowne Plaza ballroom, the first will be tomorrow, Tuesday, August 18, from 4p – 7pm, and the second will be on Wednesday from 11:30am – 1:30pm.

For more info visit Corridor Recovery.

The Flood – One Year Ago

One year ago today, on Wednesday, June 11, 2008, historic flooding was underway in Cedar Rapids. My third summer as a seasonal employee with the Veterans Memorial Building maintenance crew, I had a very involved, first hand perspective of the flood in downtown and public facilities. Working at the Veterans Memorial Building, better known as City Hall, which sits on Mays Island in the middle of the Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids, I watched the river rise daily and got regular updates and break room commentary on surrounding areas from my elder co-workers who lived outside the city. I remember watching the river rise through downtown the previous summer so up until the day or two before, it really didn’t seem like it was going to be that big of deal. Of course, official crest predictions continued to go up, and an additional downpour that Thursday pushed the river to crest at an absurd 31+ feet, breaking the old record by almost ten feet. Even during the flood and immediately after, I didn’t seem to grasp the enormity of its affect. Originally I figured we could be back in the building clearing out and cleaning up within a few weeks and have the building back up and running. Who would’ve known it’d be a year later, the lower levels cleared out and down to bare-bones, with little more than a possibility of the City offices one day returning.

Preparation at Vets Memorial
At work, the greatest day of urgency was on that Wednesday, June 11, the day before the building and much of downtown were completely overtaken with water. I recall arriving to work around 8am as normal. I walked from the GTC, where I commuted to by bus, past the riverwalk along the eastern bank of the river. The river level had began to rise above the lowest part of the walk, near 4th Avenue. Smulekoff’s, which sits directly next to the river, was clearly taking on water with a number of hoses from the basement pumping it back into the river. Water was also being pumped out of the underground Mays Island parking garage, which had begun to seep in a day or two before. This morning the river level was inches from topping the river wall lining the mid park section of the island and only four or five feet from the road beds of the three bridges.

Underground floodingAs I got into work, water had already begun to seep through the walls of the “underground” – an addition built underneath Second Avenue in the 1960s which connects the basement of the original structure to the underground parkade, also constructed at that time. Originally the location for emergency management and various other offices, the space had been condemned for a number of years due to falling pieces of concrete from the ceiling (below the street), and was essentially a large, half-demoed space used for storage, trash, and recycling sorting. Attempts to block or patch the wall seepage were no good and water quickly began flowing into the public hallway through the underground. We set up some sandbags by underground’s connection to the original building and set up a hefty pump to try to keep it down.

Throughout the day city office workers from upstairs were carting boxes of city legal records and other documents stored in the basement up to the auditorium on the first floor – which of course, turned out to be in harm’s way anyway as the final crest was two feet above the first floor.

I took two or three trips to Public Works in the dump truck to pick up pallets of sandbags that day. Volunteers were working around the clock filling sandbags for city and private use. I had trouble even getting in with the line of cars waiting to get their ten alloted sandbags. City vehicles were able to drive in to be loaded with full pallets. While in line one a woman was handing out free pizza and told us to “Keep up the good work.” As the situation worsened, cooperation and morale ran high.

Returning to the building with my first load, just about noon, I encountered heavy traffic. Congestion around public works and downtown as people rushed to prepare homes and businesses, along with the closure of the 3rd Avenue bridge made a normal five minute trip, take more like 20 or 30 minutes. It had begun raining at that point, making the enduring flooding seem even more dire. When I finally made it to the First Avenue bridge, I pulled into the east alley by the building and started unloading the sandbags around a basement window opening before breaking for a quick lunch in the shop.

Rain clouds cleared in the afternoon as work continued. Lots of people were downtown – many came as onlookers, and many came to help. Two guys who were walking by helped us unload another truck load of sandbags in front of a west side entrance to the mezzanine level. Back to public works for another load – surface level flooding becoming much more apparent in low areas a few blocks from the river. On my last trip back to Mays Island, police were diverting westbound First Avenue around 6th Street West due to water now over the road (in lower areas, not all the way from the river). I was allowed to go through as I was just going to City Hall.

Towards the end of my work day I helped the two night guys move supplies from the basement up to the dining room on the mezzanine level – again a futile effort as this room was entirely submerged the next day. Before leaving the building around 5pm, I went to the roof to get some pictures of the river flooding from all angles. At this point the 3rd Avenue bridge had been closed as water was but a foot from the road bed now. 2nd Avenue bridge was closed about an hour later. Eventually all river crossings in the city were closed except for I-380.

The Crest
The next morning, Thursday, June 12, it was raining hard. I had planned to go into work early but the building and much of downtown had already been completely inundated. That day, at home, we had to deal with rain-related water coming into our basement. My brother Daniel was also hurrying to move guitars and equipment from his recording studio about seven blocks from the river – just in case. He and his business partner had just signed a lease for a larger, more permanent space in downtown Marion so they simply moved much of it to their new location. I went along to help them out in the afternoon as rain was still coming down – and the river still rising.

After finishing up we decided to walk a few blocks toward the river where the water had now reached past the 4th Street railroad tracks in the downtown core. Many National Guard officers were on the scene keeping the public away and out of the water as volunteers continued sandbagging buildings close by. We didn’t stick around very long.

The next few days were to watch and wait. Many businesses outside of downtown were closed as accessibility throughout the city was extremely hampered with 380 being the only river crossing for days. With three of the city’s four collector wells being flooded, conserving water was also critically important. Most businesses and residents obeyed mandatory water restrictions, refraining from doing laundry and showering for days. The Cedar River finally crested at around 31 feet early afternoon on Friday, June 13, taking thousands homes and hundreds of city blocks.

Pretty much confined to the house as my summer job was under water and most businesses remained closed, that Sunday was a less than average Fathers Day, I imagine, for most of the community’s dads. My brothers and I went to see our dad that afternoon out at Kirkwood, where he had spent the past few days reporting news on the flood at KCCK radio. This was my first time crossing the river since the floodwaters had submerged much of downtown, and certainly Mays Island. Though water had already recessed a number of feet, the view from 380 was no doubt dramatic.

Post Flood Clean Up
I finally returned to work the following week on Tuesday, the 17th, meeting my VMC co-workers at the Police Station to start picking up sandbags and debris, along with some guys from the city parking division. As transit serve had not resumed yet, my mom gave me a ride there. After passing a checkpoint many blocks from the station, we drove down blocks of empty streets surrounded by empty houses and no people. It was very surreal.

All downtown bridges were reopened and transit service resumed Wednesday, the 18th, with limited service so I took the bus to work. A temporary transfer site was set up at 4th Ave and 12th Street SE, and buses were not allowed to pick up or drop off any passengers inside the still access-controlled flood zone. Since I was to report back to the police station, they allowed me off with a show of my city badge. With the same crew from the day before, we finished picking up sandbags at the station and then headed across the river to pick up bags at the public library. Private clean up crews were already well underway at the Great America Building across the street and downtown was beginning to buzz as debris piles began filling the curbs.

A few days later my first return to the building was to help take photos of damage, which can be seen here. We entered through a side door to the mezzanine off the loading dock ramp. Our view as we entered can be seen in the photo below. Everything inside was covered in mud, plaster and paint falling off the walls, and an unrecognizable darkness. Water still had not receded out of the basement so the mezz was as far down as we could go. Up on the first floor, which had taken on about two feet of water, the old wood auditorium floor was completely ruined as were many artifacts in the Spanish American War Memorial room that served as the VMC office.

Over the next few days as water went down to a foot or two in the basement, we recovered the gas pump we had been using the previous and set it up to pump out the remaining standing water. We now had a couple state troopers for 24/7 security, as we took turns “watching the building” – essentially just refueling the pump whenever it ran out. I spent many long days just sitting by the First Avenue doors watching the cars go by.

Not surprisingly, it took at least a week or two for professional cleanup crews to start picking up Vets Memorial, while many other buildings were already underway. Although I was not in position to actually do any cleanup work, they did need someone from our department there at all times as a go-to person and to unlock and lock the building at the beginning and end of the day. Like watching the pump, many afternoons, evenings, and Saturdays were spent simply sitting around at the building. I got to know our regular Per-Mar security gang, which replaced the state troopers as security. Other than that, the night crew and I spent much of the rest of the summer out at Veterans Memorial Park, by the stadium, which is also owned by the Vets Commission.

After returning to Ames this past year for school, I tried to keep up with recovery news from the Gazette and other sites, but it was hard not to disconnect from the flood. With the few days I was back in town for Thanksgiving and Christmas it was hard to gauge the progress. At spring break time in March, downtown had been pretty well cleaned up and many major businesses had returned. But work continues for smaller businesses and other less visible areas, like New Bohemia, Czech Village and Time Check. I was fortunate to be home then to participate in one the Neighborhood Planning Process meetings, which will help guide redevelopment as the community continues moving forward.

So now it is one year later. The Cedar Rapids Downtown District is marking the flood’s anniversary with a three day RIVERenaissance celebration, kicking off tonight with a flood documentary and flood time capsule presentation at the U.S. Cellular Center at 7:30pm. Other events include a 7 mile river run on the perimeter of the flood zone and “Floodstock” to raise money for continued flood recovery.

Fargo preps for major flooding

A community wide effort to protect the Fargo-Moorhead from possible record flooding is in full effect. The Red River of the North is now expected to crest at 39-41 feet as early as Friday, about a foot higher than 1997. A number of bridges have been closed and temporary clay dikes are being built along the riverbank. North Dakota State University has cancelled classes until further notice so students can help with sandbagging and Metro Area Transit buses have suspended normal service to provide transportation for flood volunteers. (Image above: Sandbag Express)

Latest info available from the Fargo Forum and NDSU.

Future of Vets Memorial Building

Last week FEMA officially decided the City of Cedar Rapids, not the Veterans Memorial Commission, will be the recipient of $20 million plus in federal funds to repair the flood damaged Veterans Memorial Building on Mays Island, which housed City Hall since its construction in 1927. Since I worked with the Veterans Memorial Commission at the building the past three summers and through the flooding, I’ve heard the argument from both sides. The Veterans Memorial Commission acts as the building’s landlord, which City Hall occupied “free of charge” without paying rent, but the Commission itself is a city department.

The building was constructed as a memorial to veterans and to house offices and meeting space for veterans groups, the Coliseum, Armory in the basement, and one floor for City Hall temporarily. According to veterans, City Hall was only intended to be in the building for the first five years before finding a new permanent location. That never happened, and since then, city offices expanded to most floors in the building.

Recently the City began a six to nine month public input process regarding a possible new shared facility with the public school district, currently operating out of a trailer village by Kingston Stadium. The original thought of a co-location included Linn County as well, but they declined to participate in order to move forward with repairing the County Administrative Office Building. To me, it seems silly for the City to be spending this amount of time to study a co-location with only the school district.

Since the Veterans Memorial Building is historical, it is required to be repaired, so the City might as well use space they already have available. Moving mechanical and electric equipment to space on the second floor would minimize damage from possible future flooding, and the basement levels could remain essentially unfinished as they are now gutted. City Hall, Veterans Memorial Building, where it stands is significant to the city’s history and identity. Centrally located, it is symbolic of the compromise between the east and west and unites all four quadrants of the city.

I stopped by the building this week to see the guys from the summer. Clean up work is finished and nothing but bare structure remains in the basement. Interior walls were removed on the mezzanine level so it is open to the basement from one side of the building to the other. The building is essential sitting empty now until work begins on it’s renovation, now one step closer with FEMA’s decision on funding.

> Hundreds of photos, which I helped take, of damage to the building immediately after the flood

CR studies post-flood Grand Forks

The City of Cedar Rapids held its second open house for the River Corridor Redevelopment Plan on Thursday, Sept. 11, presenting potential flood control options developed by Stanley Consultants along with the Army Corps of Engineers. Twenty-two flood management tactics were evaluated for their effectiveness in flood reduction, cost, and amount of time required to implement them. The tactics ranged from large multi-billion dollar diversion channels to just increasing capacity of the river through dredging and flood storage at certain points. Even the unthinkable, removal of Mays Island, was examined – results showing it would only serve to reduce flooding by two percent. From the study results, three main strategies for future flood management were generated:

Option 1 – Tall, permanent flood walls and levees at the river’s edge with removable walls in downtown. (require 100 acres, cost up to $900 million)

Option 2 – Move option 1 flood protection a few blocks away from the river, except downtown where removable flood walls would be used right at the river edge. (require 250 acres, cost up to $1 billion)

Option 3 – Move flood protection even farther from the river using smaller levees and removable flood walls to create a large greenway along the river. (require 700 acres, cost up to $1.2 billion)

The city will meet with Sasaki Associates, the city’s consultant for river redevelopment and formerly chosen to design a pre-flood river walk, to come up with a final flood management plan by mid-October to submit to the Army Corps of Engineers and then go from there. It is likely the plan will take parts of all three options presented at the Thursday open house.

Grand Forks has been looked to as a precedent since the beginning of the flood, so many are imagining a similar post-flood greenway park and flood wall system for Cedar Rapids. Following the historic Grand Forks flood in 1997, it took almost ten years to implement their plan, but is now a major attraction for the city. Cedar Rapids’ flood protection system will play a huge role in the future of the city, but must also respect its past as extraordinary change is made over the next decade.

> River Corridor Redevelopment Plan – Open House No. 2 Presentation (PDF)
> Great Grand Forks Greenway website
> Greater Grand Forks Greenway – Wikipedia

Post-flood transit, clean up begins

Transit service resumed today after being suspended since Thursday due to the historic flooding that has occurred in Cedar Rapids and the midwest. Since the GTC, about a block from the river, was right in the middle of the flood zone, a temporary on-street transfer site was set up at 4th Avenue and 12th Street SE. No revised maps or schedules have been made available yet, but additional transit staff were available at the transfer point to assist passengers. Only one bus was running on each route so service was hourly all day.

I am working with the Veterans Memorial Commission this summer, which takes care of the Veterans Memorial Building on Mays Island, which houses city hall offices. The basement and mezzanine levels were completely submerged by flood water pushed in from the attached underground parking garage. The first floor also had about two feet of standing water, completely ruining the auditorium floor and numerous artifacts in the Spanish American War Memorial Room that houses the VMC office.

I was back to work Tuesday, mostly picking up sandbags and debris at the police station, library, and public works as we aren’t able to do much work in City Hall until the water goes down. Today the downtown bridges were reopened to traffic and downtown was alive, getting right to work on cleaning up. I’ve heard it could take weeks to get power back to downtown so it will certainly be along time until it is back to normal. My hope is that downtown can comeback bigger and better than it was before. While the flood will inevitable hurt small shops and businesses the most, it appears the extensive damage could expedite some large projects planned for downtown.

According to a June 18, Gazette article, Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley want the federal government to move ahead with construction of the planned new federal courthouse, which has been continuously delayed for the past fifteen years, instead of spending time and money on repairs to the current facility which would be inadequate anyway. This seems like a sensible idea and then the current courthouse could be renovated right away into mixed-use as is planned by the City of Cedar Rapids when it is transferred ownership in exchanged for the land slated for the new courthouse at 8th Ave SE between the river and 2nd Street. The site will of course be elevated so the new courthouse will be above the 500 year flood plane.

Another project that could become even more of a priority is the planned intermodal transportation facility which has been changed a number of times over the past five to ten years of initial planning. Now slated for 3rd Street SE around 9th Ave SE, the facility would include a parking garage to replace the First Street Parkade along the riverfront that has reached the end of its useful lifetime. Small repairs and patches have kept it open in recent years but according to some parking guys I was working with on Tuesday, the flood waters more than likely put it in disrepair. Personally I don’t think downtown needs another parking garage and that there is plenty of parking already, but it’d be good to see this and other projects move forward.

Transit buses used for jail evacuation

Click above for Youtube video of bus evacuation.

As all regular transit service was suspended in Cedar Rapids, city buses were used to transport evacuated inmates from the Linn County Jail to other facilities Thursday morning. According to the Gazette, more than a dozen buses were lined up along 3rd Ave SE between 6th and 8th streets, while at least two buses plowed through the water, 4-5 feet deep in some locations from Mays Island to the transfer site to other buses on 3rd Ave.

Some side panels were removed from the bus to prevent the water pressure from rolling the bus. Some that were not removed were literally falling off afterwords. According to a KCRG.com younewstv report, the buses began to float toward the curb by Smulekoff’s at 3rd Ave and 1st Street, so the doors were opened to let in water and get the buses back down.

Todd from the Gazette has some great images on Flickr (eibbtoddb) and a Youtube video you can link to above. Below are a few of Todd’s photos:

Cedar Rapids bus driving through deep water on 3rd Ave SE transporting inmates from evacuated Linn County Jail.

Staging area on 3rd Ave and 8th Street SE for inmates to transfer to other buses.

Side panels falling off bus after driving through window-deep water.

This flooding is unprecedented for Cedar Rapids, devastated thousands of homes and businesses. Over 400 blocks of the city including nearly every major building in downtown Cedar Rapids is currently under water. The outpouring of support by volunteers and neighbors lending a helping hand is a testament to the great community of Cedar Rapids and all of Iowa. It will be a long summer cleaning up and getting back to normal.

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