Climate changes impacting new construction

Rhode Island's coastline has been damaged by catastrophic storms and rising sea levels throughout the last several years, and architects say it is changing how they do business.

"Architects and builders are slow to change, particularly here in New England where we tend to be kind of traditional," Andrew Baer said.

Baer, who is a partner at Oyster Works design firm in Charlestown along with architect Megan Moynihan, is planning and designing a new boathouse for YMCA Camp Fuller in Wakefield. The current boathouse, built more than 50 years ago, is damaged from wind and water, and Baer said their plan addresses a changing climate.

"We've built the foundation as a pier structure so that when there's flooding, the water can flow right under the building," Moynihan said.

Baer and Moynihan tell NBC 10 they've taken cues from builders in coastal cities such as New Orleans and Miami as they try to prepare for climate changes that result in rising sea levels and increasingly frequent catastrophes.

"You can see these doors here and how much they've been beaten up by water coming in and coming out and that's really just from storm surges," Peter Swain, executive director at Camp Fuller, said, showing NBC 10 the damage to the boathouse.

"You can't do much about the salt air [erosion], but the building will be built to withstand whatever Mother Nature brings us," Diane Nahabedian, chief marketing officer for the YMCA, said.

The architects say they are addressing the challenge of climate change in several ways. First, the new boathouse will be elevated with a pier structure foundation to allow stormwater to flow in and out more easily. They also plan to build the boathouse with interior and exterior material that will not be as susceptible to structural damage and mold. The builders say they will also revamp landscaping and vegetation to protect the ground near the boathouse from further erosion.

Swain showed NBC 10 where the foundation of the boathouse is cracked already.

"Storm surges have come in out of the cove," Swain said. "They've really eroded away the soil below the building. It's starting to tip down, essentially."

The builders say they are still getting necessary zoning permits for the construction. Nahabedian tells NBC 10 a groundbreaking ceremony will take place on Saturday at 5 p.m., and construction is expected to begin this fall.