Churchill Street Storm Sewer

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The Churchill Street area is a neighborhood in north suburban Northfield, about 20 miles from Chicago. The area was developed from the late 1920s through the 1940s, long before modern design standards came into practice. One block of Churchill Street lies in a geologic “bowl”, lower than the surrounding properties. The only drainage for the street is through a series of storm sewers that were sized for typical rainstorms.

The residents suffered recurring flood damages following heavy rains. In 2007, the Village commissioned Gewalt Hamilton to prepare a Village-wide master stormwater management plan, and the Churchill area was one of a half-dozen areas identified with major stormwater infrastructure needs. In all, the plan developed over $20 million in recommended improvements. However, the Village lacked a funding method for implementation.

Churchill Street was repeatedly flooded by record rainfalls in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012. The residents did what they could to cope with the flooding, and even organized a neighborhood watch of sorts, sandbagging their neighbor’s homes if it rained while they were out of town.

During this period, Gewalt Hamilton was assisting the Village in negotiations with the Illinois Department of Transportation for a major road widening project that had been the subject of debate for decades. As part of the agreement between the Village and the State to allow the project to proceed, Gewalt Hamilton identified the potential to oversize the storm sewers in the new road to accommodate improved drainage from the Churchill neighborhood. In the final agreement, IDOT agreed to install the oversized pipes and help fund the infrastructure improvements on Churchill Street. The Village immediately retained Gewalt Hamilton to design and implement the project.

In order to ensure the adequacy of the new system, Gewalt Hamilton’s stormwater engineers prepared a two-dimensional hydrologic and hydraulic model of the watershed to develop a detailed picture of local drainage during and after heavy rains. Using data from local rain gauges, they were able to calibrate the model to closely match observed flooding during the various storms. This model was the core of a detailed basis of design report that was used to develop the final design and construction drawings.

Gewalt Hamilton and Village staff met with the neighbors to review the design and anticipated impacts on drainage and flooding. Although the project required construction that would significantly impact the area for an entire season, the residents recognized the long-term benefits and welcomed the project.

When the construction drawings and contract documents were complete, Gewalt Hamilton administered a public bid for the construction and prepared contracts after the Village Board awarded the project to a local contractor. Gewalt Hamilton construction staff conducted several more meetings with the residents to coordinate the construction schedule and access impacts.

Construction commenced in August of 2013. While there were some ruffled feathers at first, Gewalt Hamilton staff worked with Village staff, the neighbors and the contractor to open lines of communication, including daily email progress reports and a link from the Village website. As work proceeded, the open communication and close coordination led to enthusiasm among the neighbors as they could see the project taking form. After a month or so, one of the homeowners started hosting the construction crews for “Friday Fun Night” at the end of each week, and the crews responded by going out of their way to accommodate everyone’s schedule.

Major construction projects usually try everyone’s patience, and most are happy to see them completed. In the case of Churchill Street, the neighbors were certainly happy to see the new storm sewer get finished, but there was an undertone of disappointment at the last Friday get-together, when everyone realized that it was back to life as normal.

There has not been a major rainstorm since the completion of the project, so the design has not been tested. In a somewhat ironic twist, these neighbors, who used to dread forecasts calling for heavy rain, are now waiting for the chance to see the improvements perform.