Flash flooding closes schools

NORTHERN CAMBRIA – Flash flooding forced Northern Cambria School District administrators to close both of its campuses Tuesday and likely will keep the elementary-middle school building closed through the end of this week.

Interim Superintendent Rodney Green said water runoff from the surrounding hillsides seeped into the Joseph Street elementary-middle school building Monday night, filling at least 15 classrooms, the cafeteria and gymnasium with 1 to 2 inches of silt- and debris-laden water.

The district’s administrative offices, also located in the elementary-middle school building, were affected, as well.

“The whole community here had flash flooding,” he said. “There was a large downpour of rain here in a very short period of time. … The water drainage system is typically able to handle it, but it was overwhelmed.”

Green said although the high school campus along 35th Street was not affected, administrators decided to cancel classes districtwide Tuesday as a precaution because local bus routes could have been impacted with several local roads flooded or closed to traffic.

The high school, serving grades nine through 12, will reopen today, Green said, but cleanup and damage assessment at the elementary-middle school will keep that building closed for at least the next two days.

“It’s too early to say for certain, but it’s looking doubtful even for Friday,” he said. Classes might not resume for kindergarten through eighth grade pupils until next week.

Because the flood water was runoff from surrounding hills, cleaning crews have to take extra care to clear the school of possible sediments and wastewater that could contaminate the building.

“We have a professional restoration service in here and will probably have 55 to 65 people working over the next two days doing a lot of water extraction, cleaning, disinfecting,” he said.

It’s still too early to put a price tag on the damage, he said, but it will be expensive.

“Our insurance has a $25,000 deductible,” he said, so school officials know they will have to pay at least that much out of pocket. “But it could easily be over couple hundred thousand dollars. Initial estimates were in that neighborhood.”

And that doesn’t include the costs of overtime for staff, many of whom were cleaning at the elementary-middle school through midnight Monday.

All of the damaged carpeting will have to be ripped out, and many wall coverings also will have to be replaced.

Most of the school’s computers were able to be safely removed, even though the building’s main computer room where the servers are located flooded.

Administrators are still deciding whether the classrooms can be used with concrete subflooring exposed temporarily. A lot of children have allergies or respiratory issues, and there are many environmental concerns to address before the children can return to school.

“That’s what we have to assess …. and we really don’t know yet,” Green said. “You have to be careful.”

Green said he doesn’t know for sure which make-up days will be used, but officials have been in contact with the state Education Department to inform them of the emergency closure.

Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said the department will not provide a waiver for Tuesday because the entire district was closed.

“If it is a prolonged closure, the department would like to know if the district has considered alternate sites,” he said. “The department can provide a waiver, but the district will have to monitor the instructional hours offered.”

Eller said if the district comes up short of the 900 hours required for elementary instruction or 990 hours required for secondary instruction, school officials will either have to add hours to their daily schedule or entire calendar days.

Green said it isn’t clear yet what the district will do.

“Instruction will be made up; we just don’t know how yet,” he said. “We do know that … we’re going to get our high school students back in the school [today].”

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.