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BEAVERBROOK ART GALLERY FLOOD DEFENCE
By Suzanne Forcese
Record breaking floods in Fredericton New Brunswick in 2018 -19 brought water levels to historic highs on the flood plain of the St. John River. The Beaverbrook Art Gallery overlooks the banks of the river and thanks to a unique flood defence system, the building and its art exhibits remained high and dry.
The system engineered by Construction Project Manager, Tim Murphy, was part of a renovation and expansion project begun in 2017 to make the gallery flood ready by constructing a concrete and metal dam that essentially acted as a moat.
WaterToday spoke with Murphy regarding his design. “The concrete wall has three gates that seal the entrances. We also used a lot of sump pumps running constantly to counteract the hydrostatic pressure – water that comes from underneath the building.” Murphy’s own invention which he jokingly calls ‘flood silos’ were also a very important piece in keeping the foundation dry. “The storm drains were the weak link,” Murphy added.
“So we created sheet pilings. Water defines its own level. If you can contain it you can control it.” Water will rise if there is nothing to stop it. The barrier has to be higher than the rising waters. “We built up the four walls of the drain so the water cannot get out.” Murphy does not claim credit for the innovation however. “I just applied the usual ‘water test’ that is used in commercial construction.” In commercial construction pipe extensions are placed on the end of drains as a test to see if they hold water. “The extensions to the concrete wall that look like large silver pilings surrounding the building are the Gallery’s main defence.”
Murphy also spoke of the distinctive nature of the gates which protected the openings in the concrete dam. The openings which are the necessary entrances to the building had to have a secure seal in flood events. Murphy accessed the perfect solution from Flood Control Canada.
Dirk Stroda, CEO of Flood Control Canada, spoke with WT about the technology he imports from Germany. “Europe has experienced weather events that have affected populations longer than Canada has. Partly this is due to the density of populations on the continent. Canada has only recently developed concentrated areas close to water. Real estate that is adjacent to water is highly desirable and people are building closer to water. So when there is an event now there is also a greater need to protect one’s property.” The systems that Stroda is using have been in place for the last 30 years in Europe. “They are very reliable.”
Stroda told WT “We were contacted in the planning stages of the gallery’s expansion to reorganize the three entrance areas which included a staircase and a wheelchair accessible entrance.” The gallery was supplied with ‘demountable flood barriers’. “Each of the flood barriers we have used for the Beaverbrook Gallery is 30 cm (1 ft) high and they can be installed on top of each other to build a flood wall. A special seal connects with the flood barriers. The length of each flood barrier varies but an average length is 2.5 metres so that it can be managed by one or two people. The light- weight aluminum panels slide into side channels that are permanent.” The light weight is an advantage for speed and ease of installation.
WaterToday spoke with John Leroux, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions, who told us the 2019 flood was met “with great challenge and candor. It was an immediate test of our flood protection.” Water levels hovered at around 8.35 metres officially passing 2018’s historic record of 8.258 metres. Flood stage in Fredericton is 6.5 metres. “We had to remove all our art from lower levels. We definitely learned a lot. There was a lot of planning involved and several items that we had moved upstairs the previous year were still there.”
Definitely the largest part of the planning was in infrastructure. Murphy told WT, “We simply took the lessons we learned and created systems to protect the gallery.”
The Gallery’s flood defence was completed in January and when the flood waters arrived, “everything performed admirably,” Murphy added.
In a report by Dr. Louise Comeau who directs the Conservation Council of New Brunswick’s Climate Change and Energy Program, she states:
“New Brunswick experienced record-breaking floods in 2018-19 partly caused by an above average snow patch and rain and partly due to a changing climate but also by other factors such as land use and housing development in flood plains…and because greenhouse gas levels are not where they need to be and we are not changing the way we do things….Frequent but minor floods could see water levels increase 30-55% by 2100 and extreme floods like those in 2018-2019 could be 21% bigger by 2100.”
Critical infrastructure, homes and businesses on the flood plains of Canada will have to re-assess flood protection defences according to that prediction.
Stroda, with his European background, is no stranger to flood waters. He is intent on educating Canadians so that they can make informed decisions when protecting their property. Thanks to Murphy’s design and Stroda’s system the Beaverbrook Gallery’s defence is a success.
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