By Robert Stoneback
The Daily Item
DANVILLE — Two years ago, the first floor of the Danville Middle School was buried under 20 inches of water.
Thursday night, however, a crowd of about 50 people were on hand for a rededication ceremony in the school auditorium that started a new era for students and faculty within the building.
“To say we’re glad to be back home is certainly an understatement,” said Charles Smargiassi, principal of the Danville Middle School.
He recounted the first days following the September 2011 flood, which occurred in early September of 2011, following Tropical Storm Lee. “It was truly a nightmare,” Smargiassi said.
In a few short days, though, the district had banded together to convert the formerly closed Danville Elementary School and one quarter of the newly constructed Danville Primary School into classrooms for the middle school’s 550 students.
The school opened on Aug. 26, in time for the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
Smargiassi thanked school administrators, Danville borough, district contractors and local government representatives for all helping with the $11.5 million, two-year restoration of the school. About $10 million of that amount was paid for by the Federal and Pennsylvania emergency management agencies.
“The building’s stronger, newer and a little more peculiar,” Smargiassi said, noting architectural changes made to further flood proof the school. These include flood vents around the exterior of the buildings and first floor doors that are a few inches higher off the ground.
Smargiassi gave special thanks to Danville Primary School Principal John Bickhart for donating several classrooms for Smargiassi’s students to use while the middle school was rebuilt. “He was the first person to call me and say ‘What can I do,’” Smargiassi said.
School board members, district faculty and Superintendent Cheryl Latorre were all in attendance.
The faculty “has performed magnificently, as have our students,” said school board president Allan Schappert. The building’s reopening “demonstrated one community’s resolve … to persevere in the face of adversity.”
Also present were Sen. John Gordner, Rep. Lynda Culver and Harold Hurst, a representative from the office of Rep. Kurt Masser, as well as officials from PEMA, FEMA, and the contractors who helped rebuild the school, Reynolds Construction, LR Kimball Architecture and Zartman Construction.
The rededication ceremony also featured fundraisers for the “Ryan’s Run” charity, which raises money for kids and adults with disabilities. Proceeds collected benefited Danville’s Allied Services.
A bake sale was held in the cafeteria by the home and school association, while raffle tickets were submitted for 42 gift baskets in the school’s lobby. Raffle tickets can be submitted for the gift baskets through Oct. 4 at the middle school office. Ticket prices for the raffle are $1 for one ticket, $5 for seven tickets, $10 for 15 tickets and $20 for 40 tickets.
The night also marked the first time the stage was used in two years, with the Danville High School chorus leading the audience in the Star-Spangled Banner at the start of the ceremony. The Danville High School woodwind quintet played a selection of pieces while the audience was filing inside.
The event had been delayed by about 15 minutes due to traffic being backed up near the intersection of Routes 11 and 54 due to construction on Continental Boulevard.
“I’m glad to see everyone made it,” said Schappert when the ceremony began. “For a while, I thought I was stuck in a bad game of ‘Frogger.’”
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