With the help of students and teachers, volunteers and the military, the Middleburgh middle and high school building was opened only two weeks late after flooding caused $5 million in damage.
Classes continue in different places and without the standard equipment, but legislators and educators attending a student presentation Tuesday learned about some of the intangible losses some students won’t recoup as they complete their last year of high school.
For Julia Prendergast, 17, the flood dashed hopes of a fun senior year and the excitement that goes with it.
There’s no senior lounge now; it used to be in the lobby of the gymnasium that was wiped out in late August.
And raising money for a senior trip is a difficult prospect, she said, because none of the students wants to ask people in the devastated village of Middleburgh for money as they’re trying to cope with what’s left of their homes.
Another image students will leave their final year of high school with, Prendergast said, is seeing their teachers “holding back tears.”
School superintendents from around the region joined state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, for a presentation by students and a tour of the school’s progress. It appeared some were holding back tears themselves as they watched a video documentary.
The 15-minute film produced by Prendergast, senior Vicki Robert and 11th-graders Courtney Paser and Vicki Robert — all of whom stood in the muck after the flood — captured vivid images of devastation and volunteer efforts to tackle it. It included footage of interviews with students and staff and still photos of footprints etched in inches of mud, overturned desks and tables, mangled fencing and books strewn about.
Food service director Paulette Reynolds lamented in an interview the new process by which students get their lunches after the middle-high school building kitchen was destroyed. Breakfast and lunch is now cooked at the elementary school down the road and carried over to the middle-high school.
And despite “less of a choice in their lunches,” Reynolds said she sees tolerance on the part of students.
“The kids have been wonderful,” Reynolds said.
Up until now, the Middleburgh district has spent roughly $1 million to get the school up and running, Superintendent Michele Weaver said. That amounts to about 5 percent of the district’s total budget. So far, the district has received no financial assistance whatsoever.
Weaver said it was just two weeks ago when she met with a representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the first time. Sources of funding, like insurance companies and governmental agencies, appear to be waiting to see what others will provide first before cutting any checks, officials said.
The group toured the most severely damaged parts of the school building, including the technology and distance learning classrooms. Those classrooms held the most expensive gear, which the district had touted proudly after winning grants.
Following the tour, school officials planned to hear a presentation from Capital Region BOCES Superintendent Charles S. Dedrick focusing on options like sharing services and consolidation. Dedrick before the presentation said he’s confident educators in Middleburgh are covering the bases in terms of ensuring students are getting the classes they should, despite the environment.
But it’s the future Dedrick said is troubling.
“I think the long-term implications of this could be the thing which could be the most difficult, that’s my big concern,” Dedrick said. “Loss of property, loss of homes, loss of tax levy with a new tax levy cap in place. What’s that going to mean to the district?”
The situation has left in question just how many school districts will be able to remain in the flood-damaged Schoharie Valley. The neighboring Schoharie Central School District sustained catastrophic damage, as well, although its campus escaped the brunt of the flooding.
“Let’s face it, that’s something that is going to have to be answered. It is something that we’re going to have to make a decision on,” Dedrick said.
Assemblyman Peter Lopez said he was “stunned” that the Middleburgh Central School District hadn’t met with FEMA before two weeks ago, but he hopes the state Legislature could work to put school aid on a faster track for districts that really need it.
“Particularly when it comes to reconstructing critical parts of their campus. That’s a discussion that we’ll be having,” Lopez said.
The districts have been gradually losing population under a shrinking economic base, Lopez said, but the flood put that process on fast forward, making ideas like shared services and consolidation even more critical, he said.
For now, Middleburgh Superintendent Weaver said the district will maintain a positive attitude.
“Today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow’s going to be better,” Weaver said.