What happened to the lake and where did it go?
In the middle of a gorgeous springtime, the Meredith Lake suddenly drained. The experts say our lake was constructed not with a mid-side pump and drain (meaning that the water from the pump and above might drain but the water from the pump and below would stay) but with a bottom-fixed system, meaning that when the lake’s plumbing system failed, the lake drained like a bathtub. ALL the water, except that in the very lowest lying area where wildlife are still safe, drained.
Surprisingly, we learn that lakes do this pretty routinely. I can think of two lakes in or near my hometown that have done this. Another one in Johnston County has done the same. Some of our alumnae and friends have even written that their property or nearby lakes have also drained and required maintenance and renovation as a remedy.
So how much will it cost to fix it?
As we proceed with a remedy, we are very much at the mercy of state and city requirements for such property. Our lake’s system has been classified, for instance, as a “high hazard” dam because of the frequency of driving on Faircloth Street (where the water would settle if the dam actually broke, which fortunately, it did not). Nonetheless, the remedy has to meet the standards for reducing the impact of such an occurrence.
We are working on a combination of original estimates and our determination to keep the price as low as possible while still providing a more permanent solution. Those original estimates, however, have shown the engineering study of the problem and potential solutions could cost around $110,000. Thanks in part to the size of the project and its designation as a “high hazard” dam, the actual remedy could cost up to $300,000. And we need to do some undercutting of trees and brush that have gotten into the lake—another $50,000.
As with any project, of course, we know costs could exceed the expectation, which is why we budget a contingency. We include a contingency of about $100,000, taking the original estimate way above $500,000. That said, our team has already started negotiating prices to come in under that amount.
In addition, we have underway a challenge for members of the class of 1985 to refurbish “the small island,” which has been closed for a couple of years because of the deterioration of the bridge to it and the bulkhead that contains the island. That class has already raised about $70,000 toward the $145,000 needed. We can finish that project while the water is out and, possibly, save some money there.
The best news is that in addition to that $70,000, we have a matching gift of up to $250,000 to defray the impact on our budget. Your generous gifts are already coming in, showing us how much you love the lake and Meredith.
But WHY would we spend this much on the lake and not use the money for other purposes?
Good question for some. Obvious answer for others. In truth, the alumnae have been very vocal about restoring the lake. Many have exceedingly fond memories of studying, meeting friends, having a picnic, feeding the turtles, and just enjoying a beautiful day. Others got engaged or married there. And almost all enjoyed extraordinary traditions there: Cornhuskin’, Class Day, theater performances and guest speakers and, until recently, Commencement.
Other reasons are just as significant. First, we hardly want a gaping muddy hole in the middle of our campus. The message such an image conveys is clear—we cannot take care of our property, whether from lack of interest, finances, or appreciation for the campus’s beauty.
Second, even if we back-filled the lake with turf and made a garden of it, the cost of doing so would probably come close to equaling or even surpassing the cost of restoring the lake. A fully-planned design, soil, sod, plantings, not to mention maintenance would bring a huge cost; eventually, we would probably also want to build walkways, benches, and other amenities to make the area inviting.
Third, our students and faculty frequently collaborate on research projects at the lake, taking water and soil samples to test for bacteria or other elements. They check the growth of algae and various flora that may inhibit or contribute to the living organism that is the lake. And from the perspective of sustainability, these kinds of investigations create powerful lessons for our students in the sciences and related areas of study.
Finally, most of us appreciate not only the beauty of the lake, but also its uniqueness. Few college campuses in the area have such an expansive statement of appreciation for nature and aesthetics. Memories made there, quiet times of reflection, simple enjoyment of feeding the turtles—these are special qualities of the lake—and the Meredith College—experience. I hope you agree that is worth preserving and give generously to restore the lake.
Jo Allen, ʼ80, President