Campus Drainage Problems Reveal Location of Underground Creek

(Image 1) A St. Paul’s maintenance worker attempts to unclog a drain during a deluge on Feb. 6, 2018. (PHOTO: Lester Guttuso)

UPDATED: March 23, 2018, 11:30 a.m. – Updated photography

(COVINGTON, La.) St. Paul’s School rests on a manicured 40-acre campus nestled within the heart of Old Covington.  The sidewalks are lined and littered with beautiful azalea bushes, pine trees, and even the occasional century-old oak tree. Additionally, students have the pleasure of switching classes between buildings and have the opportunity to enjoy the vast green spaces that the sidewalks surround and run through.

However, all this beauty and college-like campus experience comes at a price: drainage issues and regular flooding during heavy rains.

(Dry photos by Luc Hebert. Rain photos by Lester Guttuso.)

Some of the drainage problems are simply out of control of the school, as the average yearly rainfall of 75 inches simply inundates the campus. Furthermore, much of the campus design can be traced back to its inception over 100 years ago, which limits the ability to modernize certain aspects.

“Most of the buildings on campus are built on an old river ridge,” Principal Trevor Watkins said, “and actually an underground creek runs through campus.”

If one follows the line of the cafeteria, the chapel, Founder’s Circle (where Dixon Hall originally stood), the theater and the old gym, the winding path outlines the top of the ridge — areas that typically remain dry during a heavy rain. Additional evidence can be found by placing an ear against a storm drain to hear running water from the underground creek.

The blue area on this overhead view of the St. Paul’s campus roughly marks the location of the underground creek. The arrows signify the angle and area where each of the previously shown photos were taken. (GRAPHIC: Christi Simoneaux, Ashton van Deventer)

“The low points sit on either side of the ridge,” Watkins said, “one being the stadium area to the pond, and the other low area runs between Benilde Hall, the shop and Wolf Dome area.”

The creek used to naturally run through the campus, but it has been enclosed in pipes under the campus for many years.

“When low areas fill up with water, the creek is overflowing, naturally and by design,” Watkins said. “We haven’t put any buildings there on purpose. The campus is designed so the pond, football field, and low areas on the creek serve as retention and detention areas to capture water that is falling too fast for the drainage system to handle. The pond is a nice, pretty element on campus, but really it is just there to capture water. Same thing applies to the small soccer field on Jahncke Avenue.”

The underground creek empties above ground through a storm drain located along S. Adams Street, near the student parking lot known as the “gravel pit.” (Photo by Lester Guttuso)

The school can only do so much to counter this drainage issue. The other possible measures would inevitably infringe on the campus’ surrounding neighbors.

“If we created a situation where we collected no water, it means someone downstream will have twice as much water, which would cause neighborhood flooding up and down stream,”  Watkins said.

Put simply, the school administration feels that the means the school has taken to combat campus flooding are as effective as they will ever be.

Above ground, the creek continues to flow throughout the surrounding area of St. Paul’s. (Photo by Lester Guttuso)


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