Heidi Shaffer, Published July 11 2010
Fargo architect builds flood wall to protect home
And the architecture professor at North Dakota State University hopes the flood wall he built around the foundation of his Fargo home inspires others in his flood-prone neighborhood to consider alternatives to flood protection.
The project began last year with an addition to the Linden Avenue house Schwaen moved into three years ago. To make the renovation complete, he had to also decrease the home’s vulnerability to flooding.
The Denmark native’s solution was a concrete wall that extends 5 feet into the ground and stands about 4½ feet tall around the perimeter of his home.
The result of the roughly $15,000 project is protection from the Red River up to 41½ feet and an interesting new architectural base to his 1919 home.
“Not all people would like it, but it’s just one way to do it,” Schwaen said.
Schwaen admits he’s not an expert on flooding, but his experience with architectural planning in Europe shows him there is always more than one solution to building something.
Fargo engineers see the Belmont Park neighborhood as a top priority to ensure homes and the water treatment plant at 13th Avenue South and Fourth Street are protected.
Sixteen homes along South River Road have been on and off buyout lists since the 2009 flood, but Schwaen thinks tearing down homes is a mistake.
“You are asking people who love their homes to move away,” Schwaen said. “I’m convinced that there are other solutions.”
After seeing his neighbor Marjorie Schlossman talking on a national news program about possibly losing her home during this past spring’s flood, Schwaen approached her to see if he could help.
“I think he sees things differently. He takes a fresh view,” Schlossman said.
Schwaen has since developed a plan for the homes along South River Road that includes an interlinking dike system. The concept was inspired by a trip to the Netherlands, where millions of people live below sea level.
“This is just an idea that could begin a new path in the effort (of) finding the best idea,” he said.
Schlossman said she hopes the city considers Schwaen’s plans but says she also understands “that they’re all tired of this, and they’ve looked at many things.”
Property owners will wait to see if the city commission puts their homes back on a buyout list in the next few months.
Fargo’s engineers back efforts by property owners to undertake their own projects as long as the design meets set standards and has been tested, Senior Engineer April Walker said.
“Things that are tried-and-true, like building a levee – those types of things we truly do support,” she said.
But Schwaen’s plan hasn’t been tested, she said.
“We are a little concerned in relying on something where there’s not data to tell us how it’s going to perform in a flood,” she said.
Schwaen said his idea isn’t necessarily the answer to flood protection but the beginning of a discussion. He suggests the city hold a contest or open forum among engineers and other international experts to gather new ideas.
Walker said opening such a contest would be a decision the city commission has to make, but she thinks planning may be beyond that point.
“We have explored a lot of options, and to open it up again – there could be some good that comes of it, but it doesn’t take into account the sense of urgency,” she said. “People are getting tired of flood fighting.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511