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Crews will begin this fall stabilizing a dangerous erosion problem at Esperanza Middle School.

The erosion behind the school has been ongoing for some years, but became particularly worse from a washout during Hurricane Sandy last October. School maintenance crews installed some temporary fencing earlier this year to help keep students away from the worst of the erosion, behind a ballfield backstop.

The St. Mary’s public school system over the last few months has worked with design engineers it hired and the Maryland Department of the Environment to develop a plan to mitigate the erosion, Larry Hartwick, director of design and construction, said.

The work will be done in two phases, with construction starting later this month or in early October.

The first phase will divert runoff water away from some of the eroded areas and stabilize the more serious erosion that is occurring behind the backstop at the school site. It should be completed in five weeks once the work begins, Hartwick said.

“The soils there are highly erodible,” he said, adding that there is a roughly 40-foot drop. Although there is some fencing between the field and the dropoff, the area could still be dangerous to children.

Initially, Hartwick said, MDE representatives suggested putting only mats on top of the eroding cliff face. Hartwick said that would likely not stop it from continuing to collapse. Instead, the plan now calls for installing gabions, which are cages full of large rocks stepped up in tiers.

Workers will also install temporary, above-ground drainage pipes to divert runoff water from the field area as well as the school’s roof.

The school board approved Wednesday using an existing contract held by the State Highway Administration to award the work to Allied Contractors. The first phase of work at Esperanza will cost $94,700, with an additional contingency fund of $35,000.

Board member Brooke Matthews said that while the contract price looked good, the contingency fund was larger than on most projects.

Hartwick said the eroding soils are in poor shape, and that there are still unknowns in the project until work actually begins.

“Our luck is only going to go so far,” Cathy Allen, board member, said, adding that she was glad the board requested emergency funding from the county commissioners last spring in order to get started quickly on stabilizing the area.

The second phase of the project will take much longer to plan and to complete the work, Hartwick said.

There will need to be negotiations with a neighboring land owner to allow for a drainage easement, which Hartwick said could benefit the school site and the adjoining parcel. There may also be a need for wetlands mitigation.

The work will include installing permanent drainage pipes underground to safely discharge runoff water from the school site.

The overall project, including both phases, could cost as much as $760,000, according to school staff.

Board member Mary Washington told Hartwick to be sure the erosion occurring behind a classroom trailer on the property is addressed, too.

“The erosion behind that mobile unit is pretty significant,” and a fence is collapsing there, Washington said.

jyeatman@somdnews.com