A few hours of rain can mean as much as an inch of standing water and waves of headaches for Butler University students looking to traverse campus sidewalks.
Senior secondary education major Kyle Black said he was riding his bike to class a few weeks ago when one of his wheels kicked up rainwater off the sidewalk.
“I was upset,” he said. “It was getting me wet, and I was just riding my bike. You walk to class, and everyone’s feet and pants and socks are all wet.”
Black said rainy days are evidence that water does not flow properly in many places.
One such evening was Oct. 19, when the rain fell steadily until—by 2 a.m.—1.91 inches had accumulated in Indianapolis. Water pooled briskly in several locations around Butler.
Along the sidewalk in front of Atherton Union and Jordan Hall, puddles were three-fourths of an inch deep. On the concrete in front of the clock and gazebo, water measured a full inch.
At the intersection of Clarendon Road and Hampton Drive, cars turning right toward Ross Hall plowed through 2 ¼ inches of water.
The deepest pool on campus was found on the right corner of Boulevard Place, where the rainwater was 2 ½ inches deep.
“It’s ridiculous,” Black said.
Tiptoeing on sidewalks
Interim Vice President for Operations Gerald Carlson said the sidewalks—both around the Mall and elsewhere—were designed to carry water to sewers. But some may have been built with a fatal flaw.
In between the squares of concrete on most sidewalks through the Butler interior is a bluish gray strip of a rock material called bulminite.
“That helps to retain the water and not let it go somewhere,” Carlson said. “It sits in the little ruts.”
As Butler confronts the drainage problem, Carlson said he does not plan to remove the bulminite which was installed well before his arrival, though President Jim Danko could convince him otherwise.
“It does look nice,” Carlson said. “It’s kind of unique to Butler, and we want to keep that look on campus. I think it would be hard to start replacing it seeing as it’s all over, but we probably need to ask the administration if they want to retain it.”
Carlson said the university has taken other steps to tackle buildup on the sidewalks, including installing additional drains and removing adjacent mulch in an attempt to funnel the water. In some places, deterioration has stopped flow. Carlson said those sidewalks need to be replaced altogether, including the asphalt stretch on the south side of Schwitzer Hall.
Carlson said he will ask the capital work group in the spring for $50,000 to $100,000 to shore up the sidewalks.
Some students have already grown impatient.
“You’ll step into a huge puddle,” sophomore exploratory business major Dan Michaels said. “It’s a hassle, and it doesn’t look great on such a beautiful campus.”
John Oakley, assistant administrator in engineering for Indianapolis’ Department of Public Works, said flooded sidewalks are common around the city.
He said construction is in part nationally regulated as a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which forbids dramatic curves that would easily disperse rainwater.
“The sidewalk can’t be excessively sloped,” Oakley said, “but the sidewalk should have enough of a slight grade that water is routed to the appropriate storm inlet.”
Oakley said the growing trend to consider is installing sidewalks with pervious concrete, a substance rough and flaky to the touch that soaks up water directly into pipes below. The city successfully tested pervious concrete in front of the Nature Conservancy on Ohio Street.
Oakley said it could end Butler’s troubles.
“If those sidewalks were all replaced with pervious concrete and constructed properly, water would hit that and go right away,” Oakley said.
He cautioned that pervious concrete would only be cost-effective with a full reconstruction.
Carlson said replacing all of Butler’s sidewalks would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but he did create a plan for such an overhaul, just in case.
Carlson might have the financial cushion, too. The university last year began to set aside deferred maintenance dollars, an annual projects fund that started at $300,000 and, within five years, will settle at $1.5 million.
“That’s a lot of money,” Black said. “If they had nothing else to do with it, fix the sidewalks, I’d say.”
Water in the Streets
Residents in the surrounding Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, including some students residing in off-campus housing, find that rainwater collects on their streets.
“There can be a lake in the middle of the road,” Peter Mitchell, a May 2011 graduate, said.
Bruce Walden, who lives at 5317 Boulevard Place, said a steady rain is all it takes to form a sedentary puddle in front of his house.
“It’ll come up into our yard,” he said. “It makes for tricky entry. I’m surprised there haven’t been any accidents from [the water].”
Like Walden, newlyweds Jeff Billups and Susan Conrad, of 5335 Boulevard Place, have called the city to report the standing water.
“At our block party all our neighbors were talking about it,” Conrad said.
Billups is an accounting analyst at Veolia Water, with whom the city terminated a utilities contract in 2010. He said he is hopeful the new holder, Citizens Energy Group, will see the need to invest in Indianapolis’ infrastructure, which Billups said is more than 100 years old.
Oakley said the root of many issues is the city’s combined sewer system, which funnels wastewater and rainwater together in a single flow. He said the dated scheme, found in nearly every major, century-old city, is the reason water problems in the Butler area are neither unusual nor unexpected.
“There’s a long history of standing water on the streets, periodic sewer backups, periodic overflows and things like that,” Oakley said. “The biggest issue is there really are no separate storm sewer systems.”
In a combined sewer area, Oakley said, adding more street inlets to remove the water faster can create backup in the system’s limited capacity, ruling out the most readily apparent solution.
Oakley said Citizens does not have plans to separate the sewer system. Indianapolis looked into the possibility several years ago and found it unfeasible, costing well over $2 billion.
Uneven pavement is one treatable cause of areas of prolonged standing water. Resurfacing projects are necessary to restore a street’s proper slope.
But roads are done by priority and the portion of a street that touches campus is Butler’s responsibility.
“Any flooding or drainage problem that occurs on private property like Butler is not something the city or Citizens will take care of,” Oakley said. “Under Marion County code, [Butler] is responsible for the drainage facilities serving their property.”
Leaks in Jordan Hall and C-Club are another source of water-related frustration.
C-Club floods with rainwater from the roof of Atherton Union. A couple of inches of rain per hour will bring in water. Carlson, in his sixth year at Butler, said C-Club has flooded four or five times during his tenure.
He has proposed hiring an engineer to evaluate the building. In the meantime, flooding cannot be prevented.
“You can be prepared and start wet vacuuming [the water] as soon as possible,” Carlson said.
Over in Jordan Hall, buckets collecting dripping water on the stairs or in a classroom are a fairly common sight.
Carlson said there is a water penetration problem.
“We know what’s leaking,” he said. “We just don’t know where.”
Oakley said if a roof is not properly sealed, water will seep through cracks.
“If you’re seeing that inside some of these buildings — and come on, how old are some of these buildings? — flat roof structures are probably the most difficult to keep from experiencing some type of drainage problem,” Oakley said.
Jordan Hall is 83 years old. Carlson said the east and center portions have been re-roofed and crews are currently working on the west end.
“If you let those issues go,” Carlson said, “it just creates other issues. We don’t close our eyes to that stuff. You’ve got to get them fixed.”