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One Year Later: Carleton Remembers the Flood of 2010

September 23, 2011 at 10:43 pm
By Jenny Forster '14

Aerial photo of September 2010 Cannon River flooding

This aerial photo by Griff Wigley taken three days after the Cannon River spilled its banks,
demonstrates the scale of the flooding.


NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- On Sept. 24, 2010, just one year ago, portions of downtown Northfield were covered in water as the Cannon River rose to record flood stage levels. Several businesses along the waterfront suffered extensive water damage. At Carleton College, the Athletic Department took a big hit as Laird Stadium, West Gym, and the surrounding practice fields went under water.

That overcast Friday morning the football players and coaches waded through the flood waters to salvage practice and game gear, computer equipment, and whatever else could be saved as the team eventually relocated to the Recreation Center across campus.

Facilities staff members attempted to pump the water out of West Gym’s basement, but soon realized they were losing the battle and eventually retreated to higher ground.

West Gym and Laird Stadium Flooding, 9/24/10That afternoon, after a plea for help went out via e-mail to all student-athletes, those who didn’t have class donned watertight boots and helped salvage equipment, historical memorabilia and other items from the basement of West Gym. Team members cleaned out their lockers when it became apparent that building would close for quite some time. “We were given an hour to come into the gym and get our stuff from the locker room,” says women's basketball player Rachael Dodd '14.

The practice fields for both men's soccer team and football are located beyond West Gym, and those areas ended up several feet under water, so the squad’s found themselves practicing behind the Recreation Center on green spaces normally used by the College’s ultimate and lacrosse club teams.

While the West Gym competition floor and locker rooms were untouched by the rising water, the air-handling system was compromised, closing the facility for two months until all the ductwork could be cleaned and repaired. The filtration and circulation pumps for Thorpe Pool were ruined and needed replacing as well.

Volleyball was forced to use the much smaller Cowling Gymnasium on the other side of campus as its practice facility. Nearby St. Olaf College permitted the Knights to re-locate a pair of “home” matches that first post-flood week to the Oles’ home court inside the Skoglund Center.

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Video / photos of Cannon River flooding

Video Photos
Friday, Sept. 24, 2010 Friday, Sept. 24, 2010
Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010 Monday, Sept. 27, 2010
Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010

Monday, Oct. 18, 2010

Winter sports were only preparing for the pre-season when the flood hit, but they felt the impact just as much. Both basketball and swimming lost their normal practice space during much of the time leading up to their first competitions. Just to practice, the men’s and women’s basketball teams were frequently forced off campus, using various elementary, middle and high school facilities around Northfield and the surrounding area. Dodd remembers it was “not fun” when traveling would add an extra half hour to the beginning and end of practice time. West Gym and Laird Stadium Flooding, 9/24/10

The flood’s effect extended into the spring sport season, limiting the track teams’ options. The outdoor running oval delaminated and was hardly usable. The damage resulted in several tears to the actual track surface, rendering running on various lanes impossible. A couple of home meets were canceled, sending not only Carleton, but several other Minnesota colleges scrambling to find new options for competitions.

With two facilities and the practice fields out of commission, problem-solving skills were put to the test. Teams raced to find facilities where they could practice and compete. The football team moved its homecoming game to Northfield High School where—despite the last minute change in location—they bested Augsburg, 39-28. The annual rivalry game against St. Olaf was re-located to the Oles’ home turf. Carleton provided free shuttle buses to allow students easy access to attend the games despite the change of location. The change in venue may have hand a hand in the Knights losing to St. Olaf for the first time since 2007.

Allowing the seniors to play their final home game on their home field became a priority, so the Knights returned to Laird Stadium on Oct. 30. However, it would still be a while before the interior of the facility was fully cleaned and repaired, so both Carleton and Saint John’s dressed at the Recreation Center and bussed to the stadium. West Gym and Laird Stadium Flooding, 9/24/10

Head volleyball coach Heidi Jaynes says everyone was incredibly flexible with the sudden change. She said her players never complained and notes that the custodial staff was extremely helpful with the laundry that had to be done at the Recreation Center and then brought to Cowling.

However, Jaynes does think the moving of locations hurt the team. With only five or six home games per season, “It's never fun to have a home game and not get to play at your own gym,” she said. Moreover, the team ended up losing close games at both matches moved to St. Olaf. “[You] kind of have to believe that we would have had a better shot of winning those here,” she said.

Eventually, the volleyball team was able to have some true home games at Cowling. After borrowing portable bleachers from St. Olaf and determining that the court was indeed regulation size for an NCAA competition, the final three matches of 2010 were hosted in the small gym. Jaynes notes it was like a throwback to the 1960's and '70's, when all women's basketball and volleyball competitions were held in Cowling.

Looking back to last year, “I think about all the things we didn't get to do that I normally would have included in our season,” says Jaynes. She admits that skill breakdown is very difficult with only one court and one net. Now, being back at West, she is excited about the two courts and open space. Still, it was an unforgettable experience. “Overall we survived,” she says, “[and] we learned a lot from it.”

Not unlike volleyball, swimming and diving was forced to move from the luxury of West Gym to the quaint—yet slightly outdated—facilities of Cowling. “It was pretty dramatic,” said head coach Andy Clark. “You're going from a six-lane pool with 60-plus student athletes for swimming, and then compressing them into five lanes, which are much smaller lanes than they are here at the West Gym.” In addition Clark adds that the Cameron Pool at Cowling is not a competitive pool, so there were other changes to be made, such as the temperature of the water. “It required some quick adjustments,” says Clark.

West Gym and Laird Stadium Flooding, 9/24/10Perhaps the divers had it worst of any of the Carleton student-athletes. With no diving boards in Cowling, the divers went to St. Olaf before realizing they couldn't use those boards either, due to the water being too shallow below the three-meter board. Just to practice, the diving team drove to Inver Grove Heights, more than half an hour away.

Despite it being a less than ideal preseason, Clark looks back fondly, “We had fresh water and a pool on campus. And for a majority of the team at least, we could stay on campus, and that was huge. And a credit to the team, never once did they complain. I think they just appreciated and realized how fortunate we were to have a second pool on campus.”

During the fall, Cowling was the location for the alumni swim meet and the Hour of Power for Cancer Research, both of which Clark says were “outstanding.” During winter break in December, the team was able to return to West Gym and ended up having a successful end to their season. “Ironically, in so many ways having the flood helped us deal with adversity, it helped our team overcome a challenge, and at the same time realize the big picture,” says Clark.

All the teams were excited when they were finally able to re-enter West Gym. Work crews had the facility back in business in time to host the basketball home opener on Dec. 1, with the Carleton men besting Hamline University, 62-56.

From an administrative position, athletic director Gerald Young points out other positive outcomes of the flood. Because the flooding essentially destroyed Laird Stadium, the College was forced to completely renovate the lower level of the building. During the repairs, the locker rooms and training room were expanded. There are now larger equipment and team meeting spaces. All of this is part of phase one of the planned renovation process. Starting after the 2012 outdoor track season, the College hopes to begin the second phase, which will include relocating shower space in order to move the weight room from upstairs to the first level and adding a straightaway warm-up track inside the building.

“I guess you could say we're still feeling the aftermath [of the flood,], but really in a positive way,” he said. “The thing that it enabled us to do is to renovate a facility in the inside and the bottom that was in dire need of renovation. The same with the track--a track that was in dire need of renovation. We now have a brand new track.”

Beyond the boarders of Carleton's campus, students, faculty, and staff aided the Northfield community by helping sandbag the overflowing Cannon river. The football team headed downtown after practicing at the Recreation Center and the swim team postponed practice, calling sandbagging their workout for the day. West Gym and Laird Stadium Flooding, 9/24/10

While student athletes came out in full force, they were still just a fraction of the people donating their time. “One of my proudest moments that I can think of for not just the Carleton community, but the Northfield community in general was just being down watching people bag sand,” says Clark. “We had a St. Olaf student next to a Carleton professor, next to a Carleton student, next to a high school student, next to a townsperson. It was fantastic.”

Ultimately, the damage at Carleton totaled an estimated $4.6 million, but most of those costs were covered by insurance and/or FEMA. The Cannon River actually flooded again on March 22, 2011, but lower water levels combined with lessons learned over the previous six months prevented any water damage to the interior of either West Gym or Laird Stadium.

A year ago, the athletic department was scrambling trying to accommodate the many different sports impacted by the flood. “Now, we are able to look back with a completely changed perspective,” Young said. “It was positive for all of our teams, I mean they learned a lot about overcoming adversity there's no doubt about that. About cohesiveness, adapting, I mean I think our teams came together. But not just our student athletes, I think our coaching staffs and all of our repair people did the same thing.”