Cleveland homeowner says Northside Elementary School construction changed water flow, flooded yard

Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Cleveland homeowner says Northside Elementary School construction changed water flow, flooded yard
A Cleveland homeowner says when the school district cleared the forest behind his home for a new campus, it changed the neighborhood's water flow and caused his yard to flood during storms.

CLEVELAND, Texas (KTRK) -- For years, Bill Slataper would see a forest of trees every time he walked into his backyard.

But, the Cleveland Independent School District bought the land behind his home and in 2020 began construction of a new elementary school, which included removing hundreds of trees.

Slataper said the removal of trees and construction of Northside Elementary School caused his backyard to flood with two to eight inches of standing water for months after a heavy rain.

Now, he said he is concerned the standing water caused his soil to soften so much for so long that it changed the foundation of his home.

"It worries me because I've seen what happens when slabs crack on homes. It's not serious yet, but I don't want it to get to that point," Slataper said. "I can do handyman stuff, but leveling a house. No, that's, that's way above my pay grade."

Cleveland ISD Spokesman Matt Bieniek said the district's population has grown over the last 10 years and in order to accommodate that they've approved bonds for the construction of new campuses.

He said construction at the school behind Slataper's home began in 2020 and that the location was decided by the previous administration based on student population and zoning.

As construction of Northside Elementary School continued, Slataper and two other homeowners who live near the campus spoke about their concerns at a school board meeting in December 2021.

"Now anytime we have a little bit of rain, it floods the whole back of my property," one homeowner said at that 2021 meeting.

"It's causing water to stay on my property and that has never happened," another homeowner said.

Bieniek said the civil engineer of the project was at that school board meeting and addressed some of those residents' concerns.

"He did confirm that the tree line was removed," Bieniek said. "The previous superintendent had ordered the removal of that tree line, so they did it and after that was when the board was made aware of the water flow issues happening into the residence."

Bieniek said the district hired a new director of construction and spent $60,000 to place a berm aimed at stopping the water flow into residents' backyards.

"Our director of construction appeared in front of the board at the February 2022 board meeting and gave a project update and said that it had been completed and that he spoke with residents in the neighborhood and there were no further concerns," Bieniek said.

But, Slataper wasn't happy with that answer and filed a claim with the district in April 2022.

As part of his claim, Slataper said he was asked to provide the dates and details of the alleged loss, along with photos and estimated costs of repairs.

Slataper sent Superintendent Stepehen McCanless a $7,400 estimate to level his foundation.

But, in May 2022, McCanless emailed Slataper after a school board meeting, where they discussed in closed session that the district is "taking no action on your house damage."

Slataper reached out to 13 Investigates with his concerns earlier this year.

Last month, Bieniek said the district hasn't heard from Slataper since the decision was made to deny his claim in 2022.

"It's obviously not a great situation anyone wants to be in," Bieniek said. "We can't determine whether or not it was directly caused by the construction of this site. We take concerns from the community seriously and when this was first brought to our attention, we did address it by moving the berm and digging the trench in order to address those issues as best as we could. If he or other residents want to take further action against the district they can do that, but it was determined that we didn't directly cause any of that."

Now, Slataper said he's working on filing a new claim with Cleveland ISD, including getting updated estimates from contractors.

But, Houston real estate attorney Richard Weaver said it can be hard for homeowners to represent themselves against government agencies.

"It would be extremely difficult for any individual to represent themselves without an attorney in a situation like this because the other side will have lawyers who know the law and there's very specific types of laws that they will use to defend themselves," Weaver said.

He said if a homeowner finds themselves in a situations like this, they should consult elevation and topical experts who can detail the change in the elevation as part of their claim.

"When I saw that water all around that man's house flooding the majority of his property, it was shocking," Weaver said. "I understand the school district is made up of tax dollars. Most school districts that are adequately funded should have those amounts to take care of situations like this because they are used to purchasing property for the school district."

13 Investigates spoke with two other people who live in Slataper's neighborhood, including one who is a school board member.

She said the issues stopped after the berm was put in place and their street was fine a few weeks ago when parts of Liberty County flooded.

Another neighbor said she has no damage, but acknowledged that Slataper's property was a lot more flooded than hers before the berm was in place.

Slataper said the berm has helped. Now, he said he doesn't get nearly as much standing water in his yard when it rains, but he said that doesn't take away from the damage he believes was caused by the school before the berm was in place.

"They have a very good school district, very high on the curriculum list and whatnot and they do well teaching their students and I have nothing but praise for the school district itself, but I have a problem with the school district management," Slataper said. "I either got to come up with the money to fix it if I can't get any satisfaction from school district and I don't have that kind money."

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