Leader Blues

Friday, April 04, 2008

TOP STORY > > School is damaged, students displaced

Leader senior staff writer

The winds that tore through central Arkansas Thursday night, terrorizing thousands huddled in their closets and bathrooms and snapping trees and power poles, also peeled back the roof at Sylvan Hills High School, sending Pulaski County Special School District officials scrambling to find alternative learning space for 920 students for the rest of the year, according to James Warren, executive director for support services.

There was minimal damage at Sylvan Hills elementary and middle schools, he said, but power was out Friday, so no classes were held.

Classes also were cancelled Friday at Northwood Middle School and Cato Elementary School in the Gravel Ridge area because local streets were flooded, Warren said.

Warren estimated that damage to the high school would be about $250,000. Meanwhile, Sherwood and district officials are meeting to find suitable classroom space.

Tentative plans call for the high school students to return to classes Thursday. They will be assigned to take classes at Sherwood Forest, the Harmon Recreation Center or North Little Rock First Assembly of God for the rest of the school year, according to Carletta Wilson, PCSSD director of community affairs.

“They have offered the buildings and we had people go over today to make sure the space is adequate,” Wilson said.

Parents should watch and listen to local newscasts to make sure the elementary and middle schools will resume school on Monday, she said.

“We’re going to have to figure out transportation, food, how to get the stuff in school to the locations for the teachers….It’s a huge operation,” Warren said. “We’ve done it before and we can do it again.

“It looked like the hand of God reached down and pulled off the roof,” Warren said of Sylvan Hills High School auditorium, and also of the roof over the computer lab, marinating computers in the rain and ruining them.

The home economics lab was flooded and four classrooms were damaged.

The math building was damaged and light poles broken in half at the football stadium. Metal roofing was wrapped around trees and poles, according to Warren.

“This was the cleanest campus in the whole district,” he added. “It now has a million pieces of paper scattered about.”

Warren, who learned of the Sylvan Hills catastrophe about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, was among those who worked through the night to address the problems.

A school bus driver who lived near the schools checked the damage and notified district officials.

Those working to keep the high school going included Superintendent James Sharp, Beverly Ruthven, head of learning services, and district administrators Deborah Cooley, Rhonda Harnish and Bill Barnes and officials from Sherwood including Mayor Virginia Hillman, aldermen including Shelia Sulcer and Charlie Harmon, school board members Charlie Wood and Danny Gilliland and many others, Warren said.

Former school board member Ronnie Calva, director of the Harmon Recreation Center, was there and offered use of the recreation center, according to Warren.

“I’ve never seen anything like the way the city acted,” said Warren.” Everybody who worked for Sherwood lined up and wanted to know ‘what can we do to help?’”

District security arrived to keep people out of the building and away from harm.

On Friday, a team had to get food out of the school freezers and into frozen storage while it was still safe, he said.

Other storm related problems for the district included damage to the press box, gym and auxiliary gym at North Pulaski High School and the flooding of three classrooms in the dungeon—that’s the basement.

At Pinewood Elementary, students evacuated Friday after the HVAC unit on the roof caught fire, Warren said.

“We’ve got guys replacing it now.”

The new Sylvan Hills band room is also leaking, Warren said.

“We’ll be working all weekend and every day until we’re done,” he said. “We’ve got 100 people on the job right now in the rain, pulling off the rest of the roof with cranes, trying to get back into the dry. We didn’t waste any time.”

He said adjustors and administrators from Central Arkansas Risk Management Association and Crocket Adjustment had assured the district that the buildings were completely insured.

Other damage in north Pulaski County was minimal and without injury or death, according to John Rehrauer, spokesman for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office.