Last September, dark skies dumped 20 inches of rain when a front stalled over northern Colorado Sept. 9 and persisted for nearly a week. The downpour resulted in catastrophic flooding that took lives, displaced tens of thousands and damaged more than 17,000 structures over 20,000 square miles.
The Denver Archdiocese sustained more than $2 million in damage to 31 structures including 26 churches, four schools and a senior housing complex. Skies seem brighter six months later as communities have come together to heal and recover. In the archdiocese, it is estimated about 95 percent of flood clean-up and repairs have been completed.
“We’ve been turning the crank on this and they’re all going to be finished soon,” according to Walt Wostenberg of the archdiocese’s Office of Construction. “(The majority) were finished mid-March.”
Senior complex hit hardest
The property with the most damage, dollar-wise, was Dunn Memorial Senior Housing at 4805 Baseline Road in Boulder, owned by the Sacred Heart of Jesus Foundation and managed by Archdiocesan Housing.
The entire one-story complex of 14 one-bedroom units was flooded with 3- to 4-feet of sewer water, according to Nancy Cuprisin, director of housing and management services for Archdiocesan Housing. Residents have been living temporarily with family, friends or in short-term rentals during the mitigation and repairs estimated at $800,000.
“We had to go in and do tremendous amounts of mitigation, then start restoration work,” explained Wostenberg, commending “the outstanding work” of contactor Palace Construction.
“Anything that could soak up water—wood, flooring, carpet, doors—had to go,” Cuprisin said. “Anything metal could be cleaned and sanitized.”
The end product has resulted in improvements for the residents, who range from mid-50s to 80s, such as updated décor, vinyl plank flooring, new carpet, brighter paint and window coverings, and an upgraded computer room in the common area.
“Three people have moved back in,” Cuprisin said, adding that all residents will be back in their homes within the week. They plan to celebrate with an open house once settled.
Rainbow over Boulder parish
Though Boulder County was the worst of the 17 counties hit, Sacred Heart of Mary Church at 6739 S. Boulder Road initially thought they had weathered the storm. After the first few days of rain, business manager Brenda Stone was contacted by the archdiocese’s Risk Management Office wondering why they hadn’t heard from her.
“I said so far not much had happened to make a claim,” Stone relayed. “That must have been bad luck because that night the irrigation ditches south of the property overflowed.”
Because the property sits lower than the ditches, water rushed in flooding the parish office, youth building, St. Bernard Hall basement, rectory garage and church basement. There was also damage to the church walls as water seeped through the brick exterior of the 1913 building.
Following a “noisy, dirty and unsightly” drying-out process, roughly 30 inches of drywall, insulation and carpet was replaced—with the guidance of architect Jim Paull and contractor Horizon West Builders—as well as new furnaces, air condensers and sump pumps installed. Work is expected to total about $600,000.
“As with most disasters, you see the best in people,” Stone said “We had several parishioners take off work to start flood mitigation the very next morning … these early efforts had a significant impact on the loss incurred.”
Despite crowding and inconvenience, they are grateful.
“God is good,” Stone said. “We are ending up with better facilities in the end and we have a parish community that is closer than it was before. You can always see that when bad things happen, it could’ve been worse. There is always a rainbow in the end.”
The church will be repaired this spring when weather is consistently warmer.
School stays in session
St. John the Baptist School at 350 Emory St. in Longmont had just completed modifications to the roof a couple weeks before the mid-September rains fell.
“The new roof failed just in time for all the rain,” said Wostenberg. “It was a tough situation; the school was in full operation, 100 percent occupied, and they lost six classrooms overnight.”
At first glance the damage appeared to involve water-logged carpet, damaged ceilings and walls, and ruined books and supplies, according to Joanie Willden, director of communications. However further assessment uncovered trace amounts of asbestos. As a result, the area was isolated and asbestos abated. It was a challenge to keep the school open, while at the same time repair a significant portion of it.
“Eidos (Architects) helped us figure out how to isolate the damaged portion so the school could continue to operate in the undamaged portion safely,” Wostenberg said, adding that environmental testing was done continually to confirm safety.
Repair work was also needed in the middle school, gym and locker rooms. Overall damage was estimated at $300,000.
For six months, the community—with the help of the school maintenance team, administration, the parish under the leadership of Father Ron Weissbeck, Himmelmann Construction and the archdiocese—has shifted rooms as needed to successfully remain in the school.
“Our IT department also set up a complete set of computers and Smart Boards,” Wilden added. “So our teaching staff could continue to give our students the same high quality education our families expect.”
They are proud of the unity and team spirit that prevailed through the “dark time,” Wilden said.
“Our school has weathered many rains since it was established in 1922,” she said. “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together. Though St. John’s has experienced a hardship, we find what remains is a sense of awe and gratitude as our school and the Longmont community came together when the unexpected occurred.”
Work was expected to be completed March 31.
Other significant restoration projects in the archdiocese at or nearing completion include St. Thomas Aquinas Center and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Boulder, and Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora.