Sloping, saturated ground near elementary school worries neighbors

Michael Nagle's not living in a haunted house, but ever since he started renting a home near Cleveland Elementary School, strange things have been happening: Turn the knob on certain doors, and they’ll open on their own. Place a ball on the center of the hardwood floor, and it will roll toward one side of the house.

"It had some lean to it," he said, pointing to a column in front of the house. "But I think it's a lot more substantial now."

Nagle says the recent deluge of rain has made things worse. But the current ground saturation is evidenced on surrounding sidewalks and curbs of his home, as well as his neighbor's. On his yard, a utility pole has a slight lean. A stop sign, loose in the soil, leans in the same direction. In his neighbor's yard, a large tree hangs heavy toward the road. Other parts of the street didn't show the same signs of trouble.

After city crews determined the saturation wasn't due to leaking pipes, Nagle turned his attention to Cleveland Elementary, which lies to the north. He says the Hillsborough County School District has been reluctant to pinpoint the source of the issue.

A spokeswoman for the district said it sent out maintenance crews to the school who determined neither sewage nor drinking water was leaking from the school’s pipes. Ultimately, she said, crews determined the ground saturation was from rainwater.

"There's other things uphill, other than that school," said spokeswoman Tanya Arja. "There's no indication there's any runoff from our property."

Nagle thinks it could be from the school's drainage system. A retention pond is a stone's throw away. He's spent the past few weeks taking videos of overflowing bubbler drains and a pond that's at capacity. He believes rainwater is collecting in the pond, soaking into the ground and flowing toward their homes.

"All the water above ground and below ground is running toward our properties," he said. 

Arja said the district would investigate whether groundwater coming from the retention pond could be contributing to the problems.

“That was that first we heard of this potential concern, that it could be water seeping from beneath the retention pond,” Arja said on Thursday, A claim Nagle disputes.

"I made our facilities [department] aware that this may be from the retention pond, but we’re not equipped to test it. We’d have to talk to an engineer."

Neighbors are concerned students are at risk in the meantime.

"The school children walk back and forth every day, twice a day to and from school and I don't want to see anything bad happen," explained. Nancy Angell, who lives in the neighborhood. 

On another property south of the school, a large tree is leaning toward the street, with branches hovering near power lines.

"Those branches are getting lower and lower and like I said, I've lived here since 1985," added Angell, who lives across the street from the tree. "If this tree goes, the electric's going to go, Verizon's going to go and God forbid, somebody's house goes."     

City crews dug into the road and sidewalk to determine the ground saturation didn't stem from city infrastructure. "We determined it wasn't on our pipes," Chuck Weber, director of the Tampa Water Department, told FOX 13. "We never actually found the source of the problem."

Crews who investigated the city pipes left a gaping hole in the sidewalk that leads to Cleveland Elementary. The sidewalk is roped off; students have been walking in the street to avoid it. It's not clear when the city plans to restore the sidewalk.

Weber said a city department would be back out to the neighborhood to look at the utility pole and stop sign.