Middleburgh, Schoharie schools fight to recover

Scott Ferguson buzzed about the grounds of the Middleburgh Central School on Tuesday, fielding cellp

Scott Ferguson buzzed about the grounds of the Middleburgh Central School on Tuesday, fielding cellphone calls and questions from employees and volunteers who’d just arrived or completed tasks and wanted new ones.

It was day 13 of a massive project aimed at gutting and drying out the Main Street school building which, like dozens in the village, was flooded in the aftermath of Irene’s deluge.

Ferguson, an adjunct faculty member at SUNY-Cobleskill and owner of a PuroClean Services franchise, has spent nearly two weeks directing the cleanup involving hundreds of volunteers, employees who lost their jobs in the flood, and members of the military. By Tuesday, the cave like smell of flooded buildings was gone from the gymnasium — as was the hardwood floor.

Nothing remains in the cafeteria, and workers were in the basement replacing electrical controls and testing HVAC units to see if they’d work. Water reached 10 feet deep in the basement.

Power was just restored late Monday in the building, where plaster walls are scraped of most of the paint and now feature hundreds of holes drilled about 4 inches above the floor in an effort to dry it out.

Volunteers and workers kept a hurried pace to get everything done and safe for the children to get back into school — Monday is the target date — but Superintendent Michele R. Weaver said it isn’t about homework at this point. It’s about bringing some normalcy back to a community that saw its downtown devastated in a matter of hours.

“Our students, our community have been ravaged over the last two and a half weeks and certainly they need to be in a routine,” she said.

Community focus

“It’s really needed, not only to start the healing process for our students and our staff but our community as well, to know that the school is operational again. It’s not just about the education, it’s about the community,” Weaver said.

Students at the Schoharie Central School on Main Street in Schoharie began classes Monday, though without some of their friends, Superintendent Brian Sherman said Tuesday.

The district is trying to track down approximately 142 students whose families have been displaced by flooding to inform them of paperwork they can fill out which makes the students automatically qualified for free breakfast and lunch.

Floodwater missed the hilltop school building by 15 feet, Sherman said, but the scene at the school is far from normal.

One of the classrooms is being used as an office for the village of Schoharie and the village Police Department.

“We expect them to be here for several months,” Sherman said.

The village office building still stands on Main Street but everything inside was ruined.

The front gymnasium is being used as a supply area full of cleaning products, baby food, diapers, toys and other relief materials for flood victims.

Parents needn’t worry if their children lack notebooks and backpacks: The school has a slew of backpacks, paper and pencils and pads available thanks to donations. “We have a lot of agencies just holding on the wings at the moment wanting to know what our students need,” Sherman said.

How to help

There are many ways to help the people, schools and organizations hurt by the floods. Here are some links and ideas:

He said parents were also concerned about their students having to do homework while all the cleanup is going on.

“I made an order. No homework for the next two weeks,” Sherman said.

Some students were playing piano and practicing ballet on the stage Tuesday.

“That’s absolutely wonderful to see they were laughing, joking,” Sherman said. “There were hugs between the kids, the smiles, the crying, it was really a good moment. I think it was really important opening for school, I think the kids really had a chance to talk and listen to each other.”

Dry it out

Since he started walking up and down Main Street in Middleburgh giving advice to residents, Ferguson from PuroClean said he’s seen some mistakes being made already.

Some people began installing sheetrock on framing that was still wet, others had windows closed and no power.

Mold, he said, thrives on three things: water, food and a temperature between 60 and 90 degrees.

Also, he suggested, people using bleach to clean up should stop.

Ferguson said the federal Environmental Protection Agency has found that the only thing bleach kills is athlete’s foot, and the fumes from bleach will likely do more damage that mold will. He suggests people use an ordinary detergent — like dish soap — to disinfect surfaces.

A group of volunteers was going room-by-room through the school building getting rid of flood-damaged furniture when Ferguson arrived, so he set up a triage system to ensure safety. Some people were showing up in flip-flops and other inappropriate clothing, so he established rules to make sure people were dressing safely.

He also set up a new process that entailed targeting specific items for removal operations, rather than specific areas, so that all carpeting and other things that hold water were removed as soon as possible.

Any paper-based products, such as insulation and pressboard furniture, and other things that hold water, like sheetrock and carpeting, have to be removed and what remains has to be completely dried before any re-installation.

All our photos

From the farms of Schoharie County to the streets of the Stockade, our photographers captured the flooding in dozens of photos you can see by clicking HERE

One of the less-desirable tasks at the Middleburgh school required somebody to work their way through the tiny crawl spaces beneath the flooring to get rid of all the water-trapping insulation surrounding pipes.

Ferguson said members of the National Guard handled that task.

The project at the Middleburgh school required the work of at least 100 people. Some were volunteers, others from the military. Ferguson hired about 40 additional staffers, most of them local residents who lost jobs to the flooding.

“Some of them worked for these small companies in Schoharie that are out of business now. They are wanting work, they need work,” he said.

Reconstruction costs are unclear at this point, but Ferguson estimates the recovery process will run more than $1 million just for the school building.

Weaver said it’s unclear yet how much help the district will receive from the government. She said she’s waiting for a meeting with FEMA to go over the details.

Categories: Schenectady County

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