By Mark Sullivan
For colleges and universities, facilities issues resulting from severe weather, flooding, and other catastrophic events can seriously and negatively impact the essential functions of the institution. In order to address closures and expensive repairs related to structural and façade damage, inadequate backup power, dehumidification failures and mold, and related issues, administrators and facilities directors are increasingly turning to architects, landscape architects, and planners in order to make their campuses more resilient.
To prevent flood damage, building and planning professionals work with the institution to determine the best, most cost-effective solutions. Those designing a new campus or an extension can work with planners and landscape architects to utilize topography strategically, after first analyzing historical flooding expectations and the land’s natural water shedding capacity, to determine the most suitable building locations and orientation. New building projects can also be designed with elevated foundations and with above-grade first floors to prevent closures due to flooding.
Strategic approaches to landscaping can also direct water away from buildings and roads, and in some cases toward storage. Bioswales are a popular solution: introducing these drainage courses for stormwater can be integrated into campus beautification efforts, becoming “rain gardens.” This approach must be properly sized for the expected amount of rainfall, and planned strategically to avoid creating onerous obstacles to the flow of pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Redirecting excessive stormwater into municipal sewer systems may create other problems for the surrounding community. To avoid this, some colleges and universities have introduced underground storage tanks, capturing the water for reuse during dry periods in graywater plumbing systems or for irrigation.
While design solutions like these may prevent worst cases, there will be instances when some amount of flooding or weather-related damage to campus buildings is unavoidable. Institutional decision-makers looking to get out in front of these effects before they lead to costly facilities closures and repairs can turn to architects for preventive strategies.
For example, to limit degradation of components like drywall and plywood — which can lead to serious health hazards such as mold — recommended upgrades include integration of air, moisture, and vapor barriers into building enclosures and improvements to ventilation systems. And because keeping the power on is essential to campus operations, facilities directors may consider retrofitting older buildings with inlet connections to the electrical infrastructure. These can offer fast, simple plug-and-play connections for industrial-size generators in the event of a power outage where permanent backup generators are not an option.
Sullivan, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, an architect and partner with integrated design firm JZA+D, has 28 years of experience in institutional, commercial, residential, and government projects.