City Hall recovers from hurricane

Published 7:06 pm Monday, February 27, 2017

Nearly five months after Hurricane Matthew struck the city, operations at City Hall are finally entirely back to normal.

The building suffered from severe flooding during the storm due to an overflow of the sanitary sewer system. Multiple departments had to move out of their workspaces for months, and everything that the water touched — carpet, walls, furniture, refrigerators and more — had to be removed and replaced.

The whole ordeal cost the city just its $10,000 insurance deductible, Buildings and Capital Programs Director Gerry Jones said. But the insurance company shelled out about $1.3 million.

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“My first thought was, ‘This is going to be expensive,’” Jones said, recalling the night he came to the 2-year-old City Hall building in the middle of the storm.

Jones had received a call after one of the 911 dispatchers, who work in the second floor of the building around the clock, reported seeing water on the first floor.

Jones arrived and found a river in the corridor on the west side of the building, he said.

He traced the current and found it was coming from sewer drains in the bathrooms, kitchen, mechanical rooms and locker rooms. City employees who get dirty during the workday, including building maintenance crews and codes inspectors, often use the locker rooms to shower and change before they go home.

“The system was just so overloaded and so backed up, this is where it came in,” Jones said. “We had almost a foot of rain in a 12-hour period.”

City employees from a number of departments were at the building all night long, helping to push water out and move computers, files and personal belongings to higher ground. After a while, the power went out and the smoke alarms started blaring, but they didn’t stop working, Jones said.

Several employees were stationed in the city’s data center, protecting the hub from any water intrusion whatsoever.

But eventually, there was nothing else to do.

“We just had to pray for it to stop raining,” Jones said.

About 8:30 the following morning, ServPro arrived and was removing water by 10:30 a.m., Jones said.

“That saved us a boatload of money and a lot of headache,” he said.

But because the water was sewer water, just ripping up carpet wasn’t going to be enough. Everything the water touched was considered contaminated and had to be sanitized and tested or replaced.

Under an emergency procurement, the city enlisted Armada Hoffler, which built the building originally, to do the work.

“We wanted to make sure we got the same level of quality,” Jones said.

The first few inches of wall in every affected part of the building was taken out and replaced. Furniture was replaced, because it was cheaper than sanitizing and testing it, Jones said.

All city departments have now moved back into their original spaces, with the exception of the city clerk’s office, which will move back very soon.

The most affected departments included Planning and Community Development, Media & Community Relations/FOIA, Capital Programs and Buildings, Purchasing, the city clerk’s office and the city mail room. The treasurer’s office and commissioner of the revenue’s office, both on the east side of the building, got minimal damage.

Jones said the city has now installed a system that allows the building’s sewer system to be shut off to prevent the same problem from happening again. The city also tested to ensure there was no cross-contamination between the water and sewer systems and found none.