The mud is gone, the students are back and things are beginning to return to normal in the flood-ravaged Middleburgh school system.
The district’s middle and high school, home to 900 students in grades six through 12, opened for the first time this school year on Monday, a week later than scheduled.
“It is cool to be in a routine, and it is good to see my friends,” said 14-year-old Brenda Miller, a ninth-grader. “I love this school, and I am looking forward to seeing new teachers and playing soccer.”
For District Superintendent Michele Weaver, the school’s opening is an important milestone for flood-ravaged Middleburgh. “This school is the center of our community,” she said.
The school itself, a stately brick building more than 100 years old, sustained more than $4 million in damage from flooding caused by Hurricane Irene when it passed through in late August. Water and mud from the nearby Schoharie Creek filled the building’s main floor to a depth of 5 feet.
“We have to rebuild everything,” Weaver said. That, she added, will take time.
The damaged areas include the gymnasium, cafeteria, boiler room and the technology and distance-learning classrooms. Equipment in those rooms was destroyed, and the school remains without working boilers, although it has electrical service. Weaver said she expects boilers to be back online by Oct. 1.
The worst damage was in a $4.1 million addition the district completed about 18 months ago. The good news is that most classrooms are on the first and second floors, which were untouched by flooding.
Dave Dickerson, a technology education teacher, lost $200,000 worth of equipment, supplies and 30 years’ worth of memories when waters flooded his main-floor classroom. Many things, created by former students, simply can’t be replaced.
“I did think school would reopen. I did not know when, but I understand it was important to get the kids back to school,” Dickerson said.
Until his room is repaired, he will teach in makeshift classrooms on other floors.
He doesn’t expect the school’s insurance to cover the loss of supplies and equipment. He hopes to rebuild his program by asking for help from the community.
“We hope to bring it back better than before, insofar as how it looks,” he said, referring to the classroom’s appearance. “We believe it is not the end, but we know it will be a long road back.”
As the repairs continue, school officials are also devoting time to updating the student census. Weaver said some of her students were displaced by the flooding and may be living outside of the district. For those now living within 50 miles, the district will provide transportation to get them back into school.
Another pervasive question: How will the district make up the lost days? Weaver said the district is working with the teachers union on a calendar that ensures students receive 180 days of education, as required by state law.
More than 5,000 students across the state had to start their school year delayed, according to the New York State School Boards Association.
So far, the Middleburgh district has spent $1 million cleaning, mopping and sanitizing, Weaver said. Hundreds of volunteers helped get the school ready for Monday’s opening, she said. Volunteers included members of the 109th Airlift Wing based at Stratton Air National Guard Airbase in Glenville and members of General Electric in Schenectady.
“We had phenomenal, phenomenal community support,” Weaver said.
While the cafeteria and distance-learning classroom have reopened, the gymnasium and weight rooms remain closed until the floors are repaired, and others areas of the school — the auditorium and a hallway — remain closed until the health department clears them for occupancy.
The district’s elementary school, which occupies a different campus, was unaffected by the flooding.