35 Schools Affected by Flooding Working to Reopen on Time

Jul 8, 2016


The West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management says 35 schools have been impacted in some way by last month’s historic flooding.

 

Those schools are in the 12 counties most affected by high water- all of which were declared federal disaster areas. In some counties, classes start in just over a month. That means a tight deadline for school systems to restore what was damaged or find alternate locations for their students.

"This is it, we only have one chance and this is not how you envisioned it." - Trace Mahan, senior, Herbert Hoover High School.

Trace Mahan, a senior at Herbert Hoover High School in Clendenin, stood with a group of four other classmates outside their AA high school after trekking through an inch of mud and water left behind when 7 and a half feet of flood water inundated the first floor.

The mud and water that caked the floors of Herbert Hoover High School last week.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The flood water destroyed the school’s gym, cafeteria, wood shop, and band room.

“It kind of hits really hard knowing, are we going to have a band to perform in? Are we going to have a choir to perform in? Are we going to get to play football games?" 17-year-old Mahan, a member of the marching band, said.

"That’s what goes through all of our minds, I mean, we know it’s going to be okay it’s just how much is it going to take to rebuild everything.”

That question- how much is it going to take to rebuild- it’s one that two weeks after the flood county officials say they still can’t answer.

Inspectors with the Federal Emergency Management Agency- or FEMA- have completed the initial damage assessment of Herbert Hoover High School, but Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring maintained they are still finalizing those estimates and wouldn't release the numbers earlier this week.

Duerring did say, though, that of the four Kanawha County schools that flooded, Herbert Hoover was the worst.

David Sneed, executive director of the West Virginia School Building Authority, said when a building takes on as much water as Herbert Hoover did, there are plenty of concerns.

“There’s the obvious, there’s mold, the electrical systems, all the electrical wiring. There’s rust, there’s potential for failure of all the systems in the building," he said. "It could be even some duct work, exhaust pipe, vents, everything’s gotten water in it, even inside the block. I’m sure there’s silt and there’s water.”

That kind of cleanup and replacement, Sneed said, can be incredibly expensive.

Acoustic guitars strewn across the floor of the Herbert Hoover High School band room which reportedly took on 7 and a half feet of flood water.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Duerring said the county has insurance that should help pay for some of the cost, is doing some fundraising, and could receive FEMA assistance, but even with all of those funding possibilities, the superintendent says he will also ask Sneed and the SBA for emergency aid.

The SBA awards matching  dollars annually to help counties pay for new school construction, but they also have a much smaller account to aid in emergency projects like flood cleanup.

That account has about $5 million in it, but only $2 million can be given to a single county, and there are other counties that will be asking for help.

Herbert Hoover is just one of the 35 schools impacted by the storm and Sneed said his agency has heard from each of the 12 counties declared federal disaster areas that they intend to apply for SBA emergency funding.

Sneed said his board will have to weigh the small amount of money they can award with the amount of good they can do, but called the potential for Herbert Hoover to be ready by the first day of school "questionable."

The concession stand on Richwood High School's athletic campus.
Credit Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Duerring has pledged to make that happen for all of his schools.

“We’re very committed to getting these schools up and running and bringing our kids back in and making sure every student can start school on August 8," he said. "There may be a different schedule, it may be a different scenario, but we will get our kids back to school.”

Duerring was scheduled to have a meeting with FEMA this week to finalize damage estimates that he says could be released Friday.

Emergency funding requests are due to the SBA by July 15.