25 WV schools reportedly damaged by flood, storm

David Gutman , Staff Writer

Ryan Quinn , Staff Writer

At Herbert Hoover High School near Clendenin, 3 to 5 inches of mud still coated the entire first floor Monday, an unwelcome gift left by 6 feet of flood water that swamped the school and may prevent it from starting classes on time next school year.

About 5 miles down the road, at Bridge Elementary School in Elkview, the flood filled the school with 3 feet of water, destroying classrooms, the kitchen and cafeteria and the computer lab.

And at Elkview Middle School, custodians worked Monday to suck up muddy water from the school’s floors, while piles of donated clothes sat in the parking lot, residents dropping them off and picking them up at their leisure. Next to the school’s baseball field is a trash pile 30 feet high, a frontloader and a backhoe working to haul away the remnants of ruined homes.

Clendenin Elementary School also suffered about as much damage as Bridge, Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring said.
Alan Engelbert — director of the Kanawha County Public Library system, which is separate from the school system — said his staff thinks the Clendenin library branch is a total loss. He said windows burst from the force of water that rose above the ceiling, and books and DVDs are now lodged up there.

“Most of the ceiling is gone,” Engelbert said. “The floor is a really nasty mixture of books and ceiling tile and 3, 4, 5 inches of mud, so it’s hard to imagine that there’s anything useful that’s left in there.”

Engelbert said it’s still too early to talk about whether the system will replace the library. He said several staff members lost their homes.

He said patrons who’ve suffered from the floods shouldn’t worry about returning library books right now, nor should people try to donate books right now because the system isn’t in a position to take them.

The flood that killed 23 people and destroyed thousands of homes across West Virginia affected schools beyond the four along the Elk River in Kanawha. West Virginia counties have reported to the state Department of Education that 25 public schools were damaged by the flooding or other impacts of the storms that spawned it.

Mike Pickens, the department’s executive director of school transportation and facilities, said it’s unclear whether a dozen of those schools will open in time for the start of the upcoming school year, though initial reports don’t suggest any schools will be total losses. He said Nicholas County probably has the worst situation, with three schools that may be the most damaged in the state.

“All are categorized as severe,” Pickens said. “We know we had 3 feet of water in Summersville Middle, we had 4-plus feet in Richwood Middle, and the boiler room in Richwood High School, the kitchen, cafeteria and gymnasium, those core areas that are critical to school operations were also flooded.”

Stephen Kirk, director of facilities and maintenance for Greenbrier County Schools, said the entire lower level of Rupert Elementary was flooded with several inches of water, and the paving of the entrance road to Greenbrier West High School was “entirely stripped off a significant section of that, down to the [gravel] sub base.” He said more paving was damaged leading up the school’s actual entrance, but there was no damage to the county’s 11 other public schools.

“The school system really was extremely fortunate that we did not receive more damage,” Kirk said. “But the devastation to the community with the loss of life, is very humbling.”

Pickens said Clay County reported that it’s lost three spare buses along with a significant amount of equipment.

Brette Fraley, Kanawha’s executive director of school transportation, said flooding at the Elkview bus terminal affected 10 buses, but that routes shouldn’t be affected in the upcoming school year. He said he won’t know for a while whether any of the buses were totaled, and the bus vendor visited Monday and will be giving estimates for repair costs.
Pickens said counties also reported harm to schools from hail, and Braxton County had one school with moderate damage and four with minor damage, all due to a power outage that caused a loss of food in coolers and affected security cameras.

Kanawha will be the first school system in the state to start classes, and Pickens said Kanawha school maintenance director Terry Hollandsworth told him that Herbert Hoover won’t be able to open by the Aug. 8 start date for most Kanawha schools. Hollandsworth told a reporter he couldn’t speak early Monday afternoon because he was in a meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he didn’t return another call later that afternoon.

Duerring said Herbert Hoover was probably the most harmed Kanawha school and damage still is being assessed. He said Elkview Middle is the least damaged of Kanawha’s schools.

“There’s a lot of work that has to be done,” Duerring said.

He said just about everything on Hoover’s first floor was destroyed and at least the gym floor needs replacing. Charles Wilson, Kanawha’s executive director of facilities planning, said the boiler room at Hoover had 10 feet of water.

When asked what will happen if Kanawha can’t get any schools ready by Aug. 8, Duerring said it was “too soon to talk about that.” He said the county will be working on contingency plans for what will happen with students who attend schools that may not open in time, but he declined to discuss what those plans could entail or whether school could simply start late without having to make up days at the end of the school year.

“We’re first developing a plan on the clean up … once that plan’s in place and we start monitoring what takes place during that clean up, then we’ll make determinations of whether or not we look like we can get school open for the first day of school,” he said.

He said he didn’t know whether Kanawha would be eligible for any emergency funding. The state School Building Authority has $4.6 million in emergency funds available to school systems if they meet certain criteria.

At Herbert Hoover, first the mud, which cakes the entire first floor, the stench thick in the parking lot, needs to be cleared out. It has covered both of the school’s gymnasiums, the auditorium, the wood shop, the cafeteria and the kitchen.

Then, Principal Mike Kelley said, they would bring in electricians, plumbers and heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians to make sure it was safe to be in the building, before pulling everything out to “see what’s salvageable.”

Kelley said there was “no consideration” of not re-opening the school, it was just a matter of when they would be able to.

He said there would be a contingency plan for the school’s 750 students if it is unable to open in time.

At Bridge Elementary, about a dozen school employees worked Monday to throw away ruined furniture — cafeteria tables, desks, file cabinets. Among the muddy footprints lay an envelope hand-labeled “kindergarten word study cards.”

“We’re not in control of our circumstances, but what we are in control of is getting something done,” Principal Cindy Cummings said. “We’ve got to clear it all out before we can clean anything.”

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5119 or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.