St. Louis County is one of the highest-risk counties in the United States for flooding in schools, according to a Pew Charitable Trust report released Tuesday.
The 100 most at-risk counties identified in the report have 6,444 schools educating nearly 4 million students. Three of those are in St. Louis County, and one of them, Eureka High School, has flooded twice in as many years.
Schools “are the center of our communities,” said Laura Lightbody, project director of Pew’s flooding research. “They’re often the center where, when there is an emergency, people tend to use schools as those centers. So it’s critical that we make an investment in reducing the risk and protecting students.”
The Pew study gave St. Louis County a risk score of 1.15 — on a scale of 0-3 — based on factors such as the number of schools in a flood zone and how often flooding has occurred. St. Louis itself received a 1.05 score, but it doesn’t have any schools in a 100-year flood zone. The most at-risk county in the middle of the Mississippi River corridor, far southwestern Illinois’ Alexander County, has a score of 1.77.
Flooding along the Meramec River in late April and early May forced several school districts in southern St. Louis County and northern Jefferson County to cancel classes during state-testing time. Only Eureka High School, which was highlighted in the Pew report, was directly damaged by water, while floodwaters cut students and staff off from schools in Rockwood and other districts.
And in December 2015, flooding in the same area caused $2.5 million in damage to Eureka High School.
With insurance, Rockwood School District had to pay a $1,000 deductible each time, according to Superintendent Eric Knost. The district is considering ways to better protect the high school from flooding, including upgrades to its sewer system and building flood walls.
“I think each time it’s happened the last two years, we’re a little better off afterward because of the knowledge we’ve gained,” Knost said.
Knost said the district is not considering moving the school, which sits on 125 acres along a bend in the river.
“We know that every dollar invested in mitigation saves us $4 in the long run. So let’s make those smart investments now in preparedness before the disaster strikes to really protect our kids from the future risk,” Lightbody said.
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