Flood Gates rising at Kingwood High School

Making of a Flood Fortress: The Kingwood High School Story

At a press conference on 2/22/24, elected and appointed officials from all levels of government gathered to celebrate completion of the new flood barriers that surround the entire campus of Kingwood High School (KHS). They transform the once vulnerable facility into a flood fortress and will protect it in a 500-year flood … plus another three feet!

Yesterday’s event marked the successful completion of more than six years of planning, fund raising, and construction that cost more than $78 million.

The Night Harvey Struck

The ceremony began with an emotional narrative by Humble ISD Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen. She recounted events from the night that Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017 – 2368 days prior.

They included attempts to organize school buses and evacuate people through rising floodwaters and opening schools to give flood victims places to shelter. She also talked about the difficulty of organizing all this in the dark with spotty power and cell phone services as floodwaters rose and began blocking evacuation routes.

Before it was over, the storm caused the Kingwood High School campus to suffer some of the worst damage in the area. Up to six feet of floodwater contaminated with raw sewage remained elevated for seven days. It caused severe interior damage to all four floors of the school and surrounding campus buildings.

4000 Students at Kingwood High School
KHS during Harvey.

Accelerated Remediation Efforts

Then Fagen discussed the heroic effort to remediate flood damage before the school became uninhabitable. In addition to mold remediation and debris removal, workers removed and replaced:

  • Interior wall coverings
  • Insulation
  • Ceilings
  • Floors
  • Stairwells
  • Crown molding
  • Baseboards
  • Air conditioning
  • Cabinets
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical units
  • Other damaged interior and exterior areas of the 585,000 sq ft. facility. 

“Luckily, we didn’t have to wait for insurance money. The District paid out of pocket to get started immediately. Otherwise, the building would have just been not usable ever again. We immediately started paying for everything to be pumped out and torn out, so that the building could be saved,” she said.

Academic Refugees

Finally, Fagen told about relocating 2,782 students to Summer Creek High School for more than a year, the damage to the District’s Ag Barn, the rush to save animals housed there, and the loss of other district facilities.

It was an emotional tale of struggle, survival, and ultimate triumph. All under an ultimatum from FEMA. They told her, “If the high school floods again, it’s on you.”

Features of the KHS Flood-Protection System

All of this set the stage for PBK architects, who designed the flood-protection system that turned Kingwood High School into a flood fortress. They explained the school’s flood-protection features.

The entire campus is surrounded by three types of barriers:

  • Raisable gates, like draw bridges at all the entries
  • Solid, structural concrete walls with the strength of foundations
  • Three-inch thick glass in heavy-duty, aluminum frames with structural sealant.

The combination is actually in use at the National Archives, according to Fagen. Let’s look at each component.

Raisable Flood Gates

Flood gates, that can be raised from a bottom hinge like a draw bridge, form the first element of the system. When down, students walk over them. When up, they form a watertight seal with the surrounding frame.

The diagram below shows the location of 16 sets, one for each entrance.

The dots represent raisable flood barriers. Lines represent structural concrete walls (see more below).
Flood gate raising at main entrance.
Flood gate fully raised seals with surrounding wall.

There are two ways to raise the gates.

  • One requires only the push of a button.
  • The second is automatic – using water pressure.

As floodwater approaches the doors, it falls through inlets in the floor. The weight of the water acts like a counterbalance that begins elevating the gate. The more the water rises, the higher the gate lifts until it is fully closed.

The ingenious system even has a built-in safety margin to prevent wave action from overtopping the gates.

This passive, self-rising approach ensures the building will seal even if a flood happens in the middle of the night, on a weekend, when personnel can’t reach the school, or when electricity might be knocked out.

Structural Concrete Walls

The entire perimeter of Kingwood High School is now surrounded by a continuous, structural concrete wall – as strong as most foundations. However, the casual observer would never know it. That’s because the concrete is covered with a veneer of more aesthetically pleasing brick.

Dr. Fagen shows off the wall construction, both in the diagram and behind her.

Flood-Proof Glass

Finally, note the glass in the photos above and below. It’s three inches thick and can withstand the pressure of eight feet of water. The glass is seated in heavy-duty aluminum frames with structural sealant.

Congressman Dan Crenshaw addressed the assembled dignitaries and press representatives about the cost and value of such a system.

Cost Versus Value

U.S. Congressman Dan Crenshaw, who helped secure much of the funding for repairs and construction of this system, addressed their cost and value.

Crenshaw said repairs cost almost $56 million. Construction of the flood-protection system cost slightly more than $28 million.

In each case, FEMA paid 90%. The Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Humble ISD paid the remaining 10%.

After insurance reductions of $5.5 million, the total cost came to more than $78 million, said Crenshaw. He joked that, for once, everyone now associated with the school knows where their tax dollars went. Then on a more serious note, he added, “These improvements will actually save taxpayers in the long run.”

“We’re avoiding more costly recoveries in the future by eliminating the damage before it happens.”

Congressman Dan Crenshaw, Texas’ 2nd Congressional District

Maximizing Future Potential

At this point, I’ll add an editorial comment. We also shouldn’t forget the incalculable lifetime costs of displacing 2,782 students and disrupting a critical year of their education. How many didn’t acquire crucial knowledge that would help them excel in college and the workforce because of Harvey? We will never know.

But we won’t have to worry about that in the future, because a community came together and transformed Kingwood High School into a flood fortress to protect its children and their future.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/23/24

2369 Days since Hurricane Harvey