Floods Don't Scare Church Gurnee Church Puts Faith in Engineering

Article excerpt

Byline: Bob Susnjara Daily Herald Staff Writer

As an expansion that would nearly double the size of Gurnee Community Church marches forward, its leaders are convinced the building's location will be flooded with good deeds - not water.

The church's 18,000-square-foot addition is on target for completion in late January or early February. What hasn't changed is that the church sits in a flood plain along Old Grand Avenue just east of the Des Plaines River, which most recently spilled over its banks in Gurnee last year.

But instead of worrying about building in a flood-prone area, the church has placed its faith in modern engineering.

Key to the project is what essentially is a large underground crawl space that can handle 600,000 gallons of floodwater.

As part of the design controlled by federal regulations, the underground vault will have several 3-foot-by-3-foot openings so floodwater can flow through unobstructed. In the event the vault becomes filled, the water will be pumped to storm sewers after flooding subsides.

Jim Gage, a construction manager and engineer for Gurnee-based Project and Construction Services Inc., said floodwater cannot be forced into the crawl space by design. That is why the 3-foot-by-3- foot slots are needed to allow water to pass through it, he said.

Moreover, Gage said, the addition is being constructed 2 feet above flood level, with concrete and steel providing the necessary elevation and support. He said the flood protection added at least $300,000 to the church's construction tab.

Gage said he knows the system will work when Gurnee has its next flood.

"We have a 100-year flood every 10 years in Gurnee," he said.

Gurnee Community Church was struck in June 2000. The waterlogged church was forced to hold one Sunday service on higher ground - at a Gurnee American Legion hall.

Now, because of the construction, Associate Pastor Stu Merkel said he has a positive spin he prefers to use whenever the flood subject arises.

"We kind of see that our church will be a flood zone for youth," Merkel said, referring to the church's proximity to several schools. "We're going to capitalize on our location."

Before the Gurnee village board approved the project in July 2000, some residents with property near the church contended the expansion would only worsen the Old Grand Avenue flooding woes. Some independent flooding experts also question the construction.

Mary Fran Myers, co-director of the Colorado-based Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, said the method being used to corral floodwater at Gurnee Community Church sounds like a miniature version of Deep Tunnel. …