By RYAN QUINN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The recent Northern West Virginia flooding damaged at least five public schools in three counties, with water infiltrating a facility housing a meat processing lab at one school and entering another’s basement, which contained a building-heating boiler and special education equipment.
Valley High, Hundred High and Long Drain School, in Wetzel County, at the base of the Northern Panhandle, were damaged. So was Steenrod Elementary, in the Northern Panhandle’s Ohio County, and Mannington Middle, in Marion County, which borders Wetzel to the west and Monongalia County to the north.
Shane Highley, assistant superintendent of Wetzel schools, said there were probably 4-5 inches of water in a vocational/agriculture education facility at Valley High that’s separate from the school’s main building. He said the separate facility is lower than the main building and closer to a creek.
Highley said that was enough water to ruin “lots of things,” but the school system still is working with an insurance company to document the damage.
“Our custodians at that school worked countless hours this weekend just trying to get it cleaned out, but you know it’s a lot,” he said.
He said the facility contained welding machines and a greenhouse, plus walk-in freezers and a “meats lab” that’s part of a vocational program in which students learn to raise cattle and pigs, butcher them and even cure ham and bacon. That meant the facility also contained meat smokers.
Highley said he didn’t know yet if the damage to the whole facility was enough to require tearing it all down. He said professionals will have to determine whether affected equipment must be trashed.
He said Valley High, in Pine Grove, has about 187 students in grades nine through 12. If equipment has to be replaced, he said, it won’t be available by the time students start classes there on Aug. 21, but the school as a whole should open on time.
Highley said Hundred High’s athletic facility was heavily damaged, including its football and baseball fields and concession stands, and David Cottrell, principal of Monongalia’s Clay-Battelle High, offered to allow Hundred’s football team to use his school’s facility for practices, plus he offered to feed students there.
“It’s just a huge, huge show of generosity,” Highley said.
Highley said Long Drain, a kindergarten- through eighth-grade school, got water in a small part of a hallway, something that just requires cleanup, and some water got under part of the gym floor, which will probably mean removing a portion, cleaning up, making sure it won’t warp, and then replacing it.
He thanked individuals and businesses for their donations already, and the school system staff for helping out over the weekend. He noted that the Wetzel county already had decided to buy school supplies for every student before the flooding occurred, and other schools have donated clothes.
Brad Straight, maintenance supervisor for Marion schools, said too much water got into storm sewers, causing an estimated 16-20 inches of water to back up into Mannington Middle’s basement. He said the county doesn’t yet know how much the damage was done.
“Yesterday, the water was still draining,” Straight said Monday.
“Anything that’s questionable, we will replace,” Straight said. “We don’t want to get caught midway through winter and find out something is malfunctioning from water damage. Before [winter], we’re going to be sure of it.”
He said the school should be ready to open on Aug. 23, the first day of classes there.
Gia Deasy, Marion’s assistant superintendent in charge of special programs, including special education, said the special education department and the local Regional Education Service Agency stored some items for students with mobility issues, like walkers and positioning chairs, in Mannington Middle’s basement.
“We’re looking at that being a total loss,” Deasy said.
She said the department plans to throw out anything the water touched, and estimated that there is under $20,000 in damage.
“It’s just too big of a risk,” Deasy said. “That equipment is used with pretty vulnerable students, so we can’t take that chance.”
She said the basement had contained equipment that was still usable or could have been used for parts.
“It’s just hard to complain right now, because it could have been a lot worse, and everybody has what they need to start school, and that’s important,” she said.
She said the homes of the Marion schools superintendent and Mannington’s principal were damaged, and Blackshere Elementary, Barrackville K-8 and the Disability Action Center were gathering and distributing supplies for the community.
Michelle Dietrich, principal of Ohio County’s Steenrod Elementary, said her school was more affected by flooding from the weekend before last than this past weekend. She said the school’s doors were sandbagged this weekend, although some water still got in.
Dietrich said the gym floor has some warping, and her office and the library/media center got some water. She said the carpet in those areas will have to be replaced, along with four bookshelves that are about $400 each, plus an unknown amount of books were damaged.
She said the damage is nowhere near as bad as what happened to schools downstate in June 2016. She said she expects classes to be able to start, as previously planned, on Aug. 17.
She said the water damaged an outdoor garden but that some plants seem salvageable.
“It just gave them more of a chance to come in and help out, I guess,” she said of parents and students. “But [there is] definitely no long-term damage to the garden. It’s nothing that can’t be replanted, and it’s time for fall crops anyhow.”
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