Humble ISD officials celebrated the recent completion of a $28 million flood barrier project at Kingwood High School more than six years after Hurricane Harvey flooded campus hallways with 5.5 feet of water.

The overview

HISD officials were joined by a slew of elected officials for the Feb. 23 unveiling of the project, including U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, and State Rep. Charles Cunningham, R-Humble.

Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said the project included the installation of:
  • flood gates at each entrance of the campus
  • barriers surrounding the exterior of the building
  • flood-proof windows
While the flood protection improvements cost around $28 million, HISD officials said the cost of repairs to the campus came out to more than $56 million. Officials noted the Federal Emergency Management Agency covered 90% of the total cost, with the Texas Division of Emergency Management and HISD covering the remainder of the bill.

A closer look

Doug Coenen, who works with engineering firm Walter P. Moore, said the flood mitigation improvements will protect the campus from up to 8.5 feet of floodwater.

“Some of the main components for flood protection for buildings are prohibiting the penetration of flood waters from entering through walls, windows or entryways,” he said.

To achieve this, Coenen said flood-proof barriers were installed along the exterior of the entire campus. Additionally, he said three-inch glass windows set within heavy-duty aluminum frames were installed to prevent them from shattering in the presence of floodwater.

Coenen said flood gates were also installed at each entrance of the campus that will automatically activate when water is approaching the building.

“This is a passive type of approach ... meaning no one needs to be here in advance of the storm,” Coenen said. “If [flooding occurs] late at night, there's no problem. The gates will self-rise.”

Why it matters

Kingwood High School was closed for more than seven months after Hurricane Harvey inundated the area with between 30-40 inches of rain in August 2017.

Fagen recounted her initial shock when viewing drone footage of the campus in the aftermath of the storm.

“I never dreamed that the aerial footage of Kingwood High School would show this campus submerged completely in a lake,” Fagen said. “We immediately knew that everything was far worse than we could have dreamed that morning.”

Fagen said floodwater contaminated with raw sewage remained elevated for several days, causing severe interior damage to the roughly 524,000-square-foot campus.

She said much of the campus required extensive work following the storm, including the removal and replacement of:
  • Interior wall coverings
  • Insulation
  • Ceilings
  • Floors
  • Stairwells
  • Air conditioning units
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical units
“Luckily, we didn’t have to wait for insurance money,” Fagen said. “The district paid out of pocket to get started immediately. Otherwise, the building would have just been not usable ever again.”

Crenshaw, who worked with the district and FEMA to help secure funding for the project, said he hoped the efforts will help prevent damage in the case of a future storm.

“We may not be able to prevent future storms, but we can take steps to ensure that the impact does not have the same impact that it did in 2017,” Crenshaw said. “I think that's what we've done with this amazing project.”