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Vince Ford center is flooding resident’s home, lawsuit filed | Columbia Education

COLUMBIA — Stormwater diverted from the construction site of Richland One’s halted and under-investigation early learning center has made a Lower Richland resident’s home “unlivable,” a July 8 lawsuit alleges.

It’s the latest development in the multi-faceted controversy surrounding the Columbia school district’s Vince Ford Early Learning Center. The project is the subject of an ongoing state investigation as its site sits still due to the district not securing the necessary permits before starting construction in 2023.

Johna Wilkes, whose house in the Creekside neighborhood is only separated from the district’s clear-cut property by a small easement, has dealt with flooding damage to her floor, walls, carpet and cabinets, the lawsuit asserts.

The flooding started in the first week of March 2024 after what the lawsuit describes as “heavy seasonal rain.”

That incident was followed by two in June, the lawsuit asserts, one of which brought water through the back of Wilkes’ house up to the front door, as water flowed down a hill on the district’s construction site, across the easement and onto her property.

Such flooding was new to Wilkes — after 27 years of living on the same property, she’d never experienced any flooding before Richland One started construction work, her complaint says.

Now, she “periodically” misses work to clean up and repair her house, according to the suit.

The lawsuit accuses Richland One of grading its construction site to divert the stormwater onto Wilkes’ property, effectively “using it as a drainage field” and taking it over for the district’s public use.

It “owes a duty” to neighboring property owners to build a drainage system to avoid the flooding, according to the complaint, which argues the lack of such a drainage system constitutes negligence.

The construction site is at the intersection of Caughman and Rawlinson roads, across the street from Caughman Road Park.

It was previously covered in trees, but is now mostly cleared. Scaffolding, foundations and cinder block walls were built before construction was halted.

Richland One does not comment on pending litigation, a spokeswoman said. Wilkes directed the Post and Courier to her attorney.

Wilkes’ suit isn’t the first legal fallout the district has faced from the Vince Ford center.

Another district resident successfully sued to void a secretive February school board vote on the project, which a Richland County judge ruled was a violation of the state Freedom of Information Act in May.

Richland One won’t be able to resume construction on the $31 million early childhood center until the inspector general’s office finishes his probe, which started in January, due to the state Department of Education’s decision not to reconsider its permitting request.

The halted construction work has cost the district $286,000 as of the end of May, Richland One said online.

It’s spent over $800,000 on the center since work was paused, but that includes building materials and other items it had already ordered before the stop-work order and would have paid for regardless.