Situated adjacent to the rapid growth along Metro Jacksonville’s outer beltway, the northeast Florida town of Penney Farms is a small community of 853 with a village-like feel. The town is home to Penney Retirement Community (PRC), founded in 1926 by department store titan James Cash (J.C.) Penney. Still in operation today, PRC is one of the oldest retirement communities in the United States, and with 500 residents, it accounts for about 60% of the town’s population.
Re-envisioning the Norm
Though built and maintained to horse-and-buggy, Model-T-width standards, Poling Boulevard – one of Penney Farms’ main roads – remains a critical connection point to community assets including PRC and Penney Memorial Church. But since the community’s inception, this boulevard has consistently been overtaken by floodwaters following rain showers.
Flooding on Poling Boulevard
What’s more, Poling Boulevard isn’t the only road in Penney Farms that has faced consistent flooding challenges over the years. When deluged with rainfall, the swampy pine forest just south of town has historically been overtaken by stormwater, leading to an overwhelm of Penney Farms’ local drainage system, several-foot-deep flood conditions, and a network of unnavigable roads crisscrossing town.
Despite the range of disruption to devastation the floodwaters would bring to Penney Farms, many locals had simply come to accept the situation as inevitable.
“The point of view of many in Penney Farms was, ‘It’s Florida. When it rains, it floods. That’s the norm,’” said Gary Sneddon, PE, senior stormwater expert of CMT’s Jacksonville, FL, office.
But in 2017, Penney Farms reached a tipping point when Hurricane Irma inundated the community with rains that caused flooding across 42 acres of the town. The people of Penney Farms started to wonder: Might there be potential to change the resigned-to-flooding conditions the community had endured for the better part of the past 100 years?
A destroyed culvert on Clark Avenue in the wake of Hurricane Irma
Armed with a wealth of experience and expertise, CMT’s stormwater experts were ready to rise to the challenge for Penney Farms.
“As engineers, flooding-as-default is just not how we think,” Sneddon said. “So what we were able to bring to our clients was the ability to imagine Penney Farms in a different way – and then use our expertise to figure out a way to make that vision a reality.”
Developing a Funding-Driven Approach
From the very beginning of the project, funding strategy was as essential to the project as the engineering design.
With that charge, CMT engaged with the Town of Penney Farms early in the project timeline to compose “the story of flooding in Penney Farms.” Crafted using flood photos, a conceptual stormwater mitigation plan, and cost estimates for the plan’s implementation, this narrative was developed to support multiple strategic grant pursuits.
Additionally, the project team recognized that, by leveraging a novel, natural-condition approach to treating existing untreated Town stormwater in the engineering design, the client could also pursue additional funding earmarked for innovative approaches to environmental-improvement infrastructure.
Tannic water flowing from the swampy pine forest area south of Penney Farms
CMT’s Sridevi Davuluri, a stormwater system engineer, was instrumental in this pursuit of funding, creating all the specialty computer modeling, developing permitting-agency technical spreadsheets, supporting the compilation of agency funding applications, and effectively documenting project quality scoring needed to secure additional funds.
Ultimately, this strategic funding approach enabled the client to move forward with the infrastructure upgrades at no cost to the Town. Working in collaboration with CMT, the Town of Penney Farms secured federal/state resources via a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), as well as local funding via the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Designing to Multifaceted Specifications
Developed in accordance with the requirements of the local government, Penney Farms residents, funding agencies, and other stakeholders, CMT’s design included the following highlights:
- Upgraded 60-year-old stormwater conveyance system, which stopped flooding
- Widened travel lanes, which accommodated the width of emergency vehicles
- Before lane widening, emergency vehicles would commonly clip off the mirrors of parallel-parked vehicles while navigating the narrow road
Stormwater Treatment System
- Shifted treatment of flood-generated stormwater to the swampy pine forest area south of town, which prevented silt/sand/debris from flowing into the protected sensitive environmental watershed to the north
- Redirected the flood-generated stormwater from the swampy pine forest area into a new underground stormwater conveyance system, mitigating water from flowing curb to curb down Clark Avenue
Leveraging Opportunities During Construction
CMT’s project involvement continued beyond design, through the construction process, to project completion.
This comprehensive involvement yielded positive outcomes for the client. For instance, during construction, CMT’s field staff uncovered previously unknown advantageous conditions to improve upon the design and optimize construction, resulting in cost-reduction change orders. This opened up funds that allowed for the ultimate widening of Poling Boulevard – something the Town desired and hoped for but did not expect going into the project.
Furthermore, CMT Construction Inspector Eric Sanders and his exceptional time-management skills played a vital role in ushering the project to timely completion.
Delivering Results for Penney Farms
With construction complete and the resulting infrastructure delivering results at a level exceeding the community’s expectation, there is much to celebrate around the advances made in Penney Farms.
“It’s fulfilling, from a technical standpoint, to see our solution delivered under budget and working as intended,” Sneddon said. “And it’s gratifying, as well, to see the impact on the community. We have, after the project’s completion, talked with stakeholders such as town councilors who have expressed nothing short of wonderment at how an area that flooded for years no longer does.”
“In this profession, we have the mindset that there’s almost nothing we can’t find a way to fix,” he continued. “To hear the idea, ‘We never thought this could be done’ – we don’t think that way. It was a revelation to see others think it can’t be done and then use our strengths to deliver a final product that transformed that perspective.”