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Biel: A gymnasium condemned to take on water

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Destroyed school equipment and damaged buildings: the bill is salty after the floods of last summer.

The Biel gymnasium was built on an embankment.

lematin.ch/Vincent Donzé

Built on a high water table by the architect Max Schlup between 1976 and 1980, the French and German gymnasiums are particularly exposed to flooding, between Lake Biel and the Suze canal. With three buildings sharing a common basement, it is not surprising that the whole complex took on water during the floods last summer.

On the other bank of the Suze, the sports hall and a new building with 25 classrooms suffered the greatest damage. Heating, coolers, electrical system, flooring, elevators, fire detectors: the damage to buildings is estimated at 4.8 million francs, while at the level of destroyed movable property, the insurance will reimburse not far from a million.

stuffed birds

In the middle of the summer holidays, 60 teachers called by the management tried to save their teaching documents, one by one, in the mountains of wet or damp paper accumulated in the basement. There were works of art, stuffed birds and musical instruments, including a harmonium. The teachers secured the school equipment by drawing up an inventory of the damage.

How could water infiltrate a brand new building and other newly renovated ones, when the risk of flooding was taken into account during the planning? This is the question posed to the Bernese government by MPs Christoph Grupp (Greens) and Peter Bohnenblust (PLR).

Permanent site

“From the point of view of the population, pupils, parents and teaching staff, as well as from a political point of view, it is incomprehensible”, consider the two speakers, for whom “the gymnasium on the edge of the lake is transformed into a permanent construction site”, even if unlike the storage rooms, the classes were spared.

What is put in place to prevent school materials from being flooded again during the next flood? Even “with very significant financial means, it is not possible to completely protect buildings against damage caused by a flood such as that of last summer”, replied the Bernese Executive Council.

Specially ordered

When planning the new building, “a specially commissioned flood protection concept was taken into account”, explained to the “Bieler Tagblatt” Lorenz Held, head of the Office for Buildings and Constructions.

Problem: The sewage lift station pump failed and a backflow occurred in a drainage swale that drains into the Suze. Water then seeped into the basement.

The Prés-de-la-Rive were flooded in front of Jürg Altherr's steel sculpture

The Prés-de-la-Rive were flooded in front of Jürg Altherr’s steel sculpture “EQUI-LIBRE XVIII” (1980)

lematin.ch/Vincent Donzé

Emergency measures have been taken to reduce the risk of further infiltration: the exterior walls of the basement have been sealed and the drainage systems have been improved. But according to the government, “even a large financial investment does not completely protect buildings against damage linked to extreme floods”.

Confirmation by Lorenz Held: “Despite these precautions, it cannot be completely ruled out that water will seep into the building again at other places”. According to the Bernese Executive Council, “this risk increases with global warming”.

“For flood protection measures to be effective, they generally have to be carried out in the foundations of a building and therefore entail considerable work and expense. During the renovation in 2015, the priority was to improve the energy balance of the facade elements located above the ground surface. No measures have been taken for buried walls and floors. In the following years, the toilets and pipes in the sports halls, which had become dilapidated, were renovated and replaced as part of routine maintenance”.

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