Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Can the Wasena Building Be Waterproofed?

The Wasena train station building this morning. (Not a "file photo".*)
John Ansty of Ansty-Hodge, a marketing/advertising company in Roanoke, has bought the old Wasena train station, which used to house the Roanoke (later Virginia) Museum of Transportation--before the flood of 1985 ravaged it and caused the museum to move. It has been empty since.

Ansty wants to create something of a community center (food and retail next door to the skateboard park and softball fields) for the area. He paid the City of Roanoke $2,000 for the building and agreed to put $200,000 into renovation.

A few years ago, when the flood reduction project for the Roanoke River was underway, I suggested to City Manager Darlene Burcham that the dirt from that project be used to build a berm around the old museum. I reasoned at the time that it would be a cheap fix to making the building desirable. Darlene said the dirt "has been previously assigned." I don't know what that meant, except that it wasn't used for the berm.

The flood insurance was always going to be expensive and I thought this could help reduce it and make the building marketable. East Coasters bike shop recently found out just how expensive the insurance is--$28,000 a year--when it looked at setting up shop there. East Coasters' owners changed their minds.

Richard Rife of the architectural firm of Rife & Wood (and a good friend of mine) is doing the design on Ansty's building and I put the question of the berm to him. Here's his response:

"The 100-year flood elevation is about 3.5 feet above the floor level [of the building], which is another 2.5-3 feet above grade. So it would take a berm 6-6.5 feet high to protect the building. A berm could certainly be engineered to protect the building, but it would greatly complicate things.

"You would need a handicapped ramp to get folks over the berm and then back down to floor level OR some sort of floor gate where the ramp goes through the berm. You would also need storm drains inside the bowl of the berm to drain normal rainfall, but they would also need some sort of backflow preventer to keep floor waters from flowing back into the bowl during a flood.

"Esthetically, the berm would obscure the public’s view of the building and make it less attractive to renters. You also cannot build a berm (or any new thing) in a floodway that would displace water and cause the flood to be higher unless you also dig out a similar amount of existing earth to even it out.

"John’s building is not in the floodway, but a berm for it might be. And if you do this you have to get the Corps to review and approve, which adds much time to an approval process.

"The flood insurance rates quadrupled in the last year as a result of the hurricane-related flooding in NYC and other places and is expected to continue to increase. The previous buyer was borrowing money to renovate the building so his lender required insurance. It would have been about $28,000 a year – more than the mortgage payment.  It killed the deal.

"John is self-financing the project and will take his chances on the flooding. He’s had a lot of interest from potential tenants and today’s article will only add to that. I hope this works out for him.  He’s a really good guy and a delight to work with. We did the renovation on his agency’s offices in the old gas station in front of the Hotel Roanoke" which won a renovation award from the Preservation Foundation.

(*Unlike the local daily paper, which does not seem to use its photographers much any more--even the few it has--I drove over to the park this morning to get this photo. I'm about three times as far away as the newspaper, but I thought it was worthwhile go give you a current view.)

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