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Flooding woes close YMCA for two days

The Unicoi County Family YMCA had to close its doors last week after the building’s second flood in a single week and the third in two months. Both the gym and the fitness center fell victim to heavy rains.
The entire facility was shut down on Wednesday and Thursday while inmates from the Unicoi County Jail, along with YMCA employees, used squeegees, brooms, shop vacuums and mops to dry the floors. Ditches were also dug around the building to hold excess water and prevent further flooding from heavy rains occurring last week.
According to YMCA Director Becky Lewis, no fitness equipment was damaged, despite the flooding.
“It happened while we were still open,” she said, “so (the employees) were able to start cleaning it up right away. Nothing was damaged and the outlets are fine. Our fitness equipment is back up and running.”
The facility was able to reopen its doors Friday morning, but Lewis said the flooding has been a trying issue.
“It’s been frustrating because we have children who come down after school,” she said. “It’s been an inconvenience to parents and to members, but most people have been pretty understanding.”
The Aug. 17 flooding came the same day local inmates had finished tearing up the wooden gym floor damaged by an Aug. 11 flood. The first flood at the YMCA, which affected the gymnasium only, occurred on June 17.
Lewis said she was at Wednesday night church services when she received the call alerting her to the Aug. 11 flood. Heavy evening rains that have swept East Tennessee over the past few weeks are the cause of the flooding.
“The water comes through a ditch between two houses,” she said, “and then it comes through the back of the building through the back doors.”
Lewis said that while the water was not deep, it covered and saturated the gym floor, which will have to be replaced. However, before money is invested in a new wooden floor, Lewis said the flooding problem will have to be solved. In fact, the concrete beneath the floor will have to dry completely before workers can put down a new floor.
“We lifted a four-by-four section of the floor to check for moisture from the first (flood),” she said, “and it still had moisture.”
Sheriff Kent Harris offered to help out, and inmates from the Unicoi County Jail were on-site last Monday and Tuesday to help rip up the floor. They also helped dry the fitness center following the flood later that evening.
“They ripped the floor up for free,” she said, “so it’s a huge savings for us.”
According to Harris, he’s out to help the YMCA save money that could be used on other activities. He added that hiring someone to remove the floor would cost around $15,000.
“If we can save them some money,” he said, “that’s what it’s all about. A lot of kids play ball there. It’s a fine organization, so we’re going to do whatever we can to help them save money that could be used on the children.”
However, even with the aid of the UCSD, Lewis said the gym will remain closed until further notice.
“It’s still up in the air because I don’t know how long it will take to dry,” Lewis said, noting that the concrete beneath the floor will have to air dry. “Right now, it’s very wet. We’ll just have to play it by ear to see how long it will take to dry.”
The floor is currently blocked off by a large plastic curtain, which is acting as a seal so that the floor will dry faster and also to prevent people from walking on the slick floor.
Lewis said there is a slight possibility that the gym could reopen temporarily once the concrete floor dries and before the new floor is put down.
“We have a lot of students who come after school to play basketball,” she said. “There is a possibility we could open for just basketball, but we are kind of in limbo right now. I’m excited to get the gym open again.”
She added that she has talked with City Recorder Randy Trivette in hopes of preventing flooding in the future.
“Hopefully, we can all work together to come up with a solution,” she said.