After an abnormally wet fall and weeks of unrelenting rain, an embankment abutting the ArtSpace Charter School gave way on Dec. 29.
“We were out of school, and there was a lot of rain that night,” development manager Josh Batenhorst explains. “They shut down sections of Sweeten Creek; it was just a mess. A lot of people throughout the area were experiencing flooding.”
The Swannanoa campus, he continues, sits “between Reger Avenue and Sherwood Road, and Reger is about 15-20 feet higher than our school. We’ve had some issues with flooding in our north wing for many years, but never to this extent.”
Just after midnight, part of the bank collapsed, and stormwater runoff poured down from Reger Avenue.
“The water didn’t have anywhere to go,” notes Batenhorst. “We had flooding in every room of the school except one; the school is about 40,000 square feet, and that one office is probably about 100.”
When the staff arrived the next morning, “There was just standing water everywhere.” By 10:30 a.m., emergency maintenance crews were assessing the damage and pumping out water.
“It’s never a good feeling when you’re walking through the building with professionals and they’re going, ‘Oh, no. Oh, no,’” says Batenhorst. “We walked around, and there was just an inch or two of water everywhere — and mud, lots and lots of mud.”
“A crew of a couple of teachers and myself started putting the drywall back, putting up sandbags,” he recalls. “The first day, we actually dug out a much bigger trench: 10 to 15 people just dug and dug and dug for three to four hours. So the [holiday] break was cut short for teachers, but the students got an extra two-day break.
“We had to take out all the carpet in the building; we’re going to have to end up tearing out the tile in the summer. And we had to go along probably 80 percent of the walls and cut the drywall at 3 1/2 to 4 inches … because it had taken on water.”
According to an ArtSpace press release, “Significant repair costs … could reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to remedy the situation.” And though the school had $500,000 worth of insurance, there was a $25,000 deductible.
Crowdfunding to the rescue
At that point, ArtSpace launched a crowdfunding page on YouCaring.com to help meet the deductible. Since then, both donations and volunteer assistance have poured in.
“The amount raised doesn’t even begin to value the volunteer time that we got,” Batenhorst reports. “Some stacked sandbags, and one of our teachers’ partners was here all day every day cutting drywall. Other parents came and painted, pulled out carpet. Children of faculty and staff came and helped. We tried to track all the volunteer hours, which at this point is over 1,000 hours, but that doesn’t track it all either, because some of them didn’t sign the form.”
Although the bulk of the money came from individuals and families, one of the biggest single donations was compliments of the Native Kitchen & Social Pub. The Swannanoa eatery and bar offered to kick in an entire day’s profits, and with patrons’ help, they raised $5,900.
In the past, notes marketing manager Marissa Howard, Native Kitchen has done fundraisers for ArtSpace and other local organizations, typically giving 20 percent of the day’s profits.
The flooding, though, “was such a horrific thing for them. … A $25,000 deductible is pretty extreme for a school, especially a charter school. So we wanted to be able to contribute. … But now, I think, they’ve completely surpassed that goal.”
The campaign, notes Batenhorst, “is still open, so people can still give if they want. I was looking through the list of names, and families and extended families probably make up 85 percent. But then there’s another group of people that have no personal connection to the school: People heard about it on the radio or on social media, and they just wanted to help.”
Within a week, ArtSpace had met its crowdfunding goal; the school has since collected more than twice what it needed to cover the deductible. The rest of the money will help pay for implementing the school’s recently completed master plan, which includes steps to address the drainage issues.
A permanent fix
“When they built the building, they carved away the side of the hill and put in some drainage,” Batenhorst explains. “It just isn’t as much as you would need if the rain is as heavy as it was that night.” A culvert running alongside the road, he continues, “just dumps all the water from Reger Avenue.”
Even before the recent deluge, the school knew it had to deal with the problem once and for all.
“We’d been working with the Asheville Design Center, and they came and helped us do the master campus plan,” says Batenhorst; the final design had been presented to the school’s board of directors earlier in December.
“The main piece was to start working on the bank issue. The flood really solidified the plan and sped up the process: We just can’t have another flood like this.”
The plan involves “digging the bank back and trying as best we can to make that slope more gentle, and also putting in some sort of retaining structure,” says Batenhorst, adding that the school will need to add some rock and other surface elements to slow the erosion on the hill. “We’re also going to have to figure out how to partner with the [North Carolina Department of Transportation] and the Buncombe County stormwater management program to get permission to take that culvert that spills onto the property and have it go down under the sidewalk.”
Thanks to a lot of hard work by teachers, other staff and volunteers, ArtSpace was able to resume classes mere days after the flood.
“We’ve been through stuff before, and we’ll keep going,” says Batenhorst. “I think we’ve established a reputation as a real leader of arts education in our area. If anyone is interested in coming out and seeing the school and seeing how we’ve recovered — especially if you’ve got a student in K through eight — we’re open for business!”