By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News
DANVILLE — More than a year after being flooded, Danville Middle School is showing signs of life.
While work had been done to preserve the building following the September 2011 Tropical Storm Lee flood, efforts toward full-scale reconstruction had not started until Dec. 21.
“Basically, the building is still in demolition stage,” said school board President Allan Schappert during a tour of the school. In three to four weeks time, rebuilding will commence, he said.
One of the main projects is installing new flooring. All floors on the first level of the building, where floodwater was 20 inches deep, have been removed. Some hallways have new, highly polished concrete flooring installed, but much of the building still needs covering.
“There’s a lot of work for seven months,” said Cheryl Latorre, district superintendent.
This is the first week the full construction team has been on site, said Jeff Brophy, on-site construction manager for Reynolds Construction, hired to rebuild the school. However, everything is going as scheduled to have the school open in time for the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
Old lockers, contaminated with bacteria by the sewage treatment plant adjacent to the school, have been torn out.
Middle school students have provided opinions about which colors they want for the new lockers, said Charles Smargiassi, middle school principal. They’re leaning toward purple.
The middle school’s approximately 500 students were scattered across the district after Lee dumped floodwater into the school from Mahoning Creek. Sixth-graders have been taught in extra classrooms in the Danville Primary School while seventh- and eighth-graders have taken up residence in the formerly vacated Danville Elementary School.
“The teachers are eager to be back as a unit,” added Latorre. “They’ve been wonderful, but it’s time.”
The students are excited to be back as well, said Smargiassi. “Every once in a while, a student asks me ‘When are we going back?’” he said.
They become excited when he tells them it should be next school year.
For some students, this will be the first time they have set foot inside the middle school. Next year’s eighth-grade class, sixth-graders at the time of the flood, were only in the school for two weeks before it was closed.
Smargiassi hopes to have an open house celebration before the next school year, when the middle school renovations to the building are complete.
One of the biggest changes will be the location of the office. Formerly, the library was the first room visitors would come across when entering through the school’s front doors, with the main office farther down the hall. Renovations are under way to turn what was part of the library into the new front office, so it will be right by the school’s doors.
Funds from the Federal and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency will pay for damages caused by the flood, with additional upgrades paid for by the district. For some time, the district had a to-do list of renovations for the middle school and they are now taking the time for those, Schappert said. One of the big items is adding air conditioning to the auditorium, as well as improving the school’s wirelessInternet capabilities and communication systems.
The board also decided to purchase a more durable, wooden gymnasium floor with its own money instead of taking the lower quality, plastic floor the state would have funded. The district is also getting prices on a new, handicap-accessible stage for the auditorium.
In total, the Pennsylvania and Federal emergency management agencies will fund $8.55 million worth of repairs while the district will pay for another $1.04 million in items.
While the location for the school is not ideal, admitted Schappert, funds would not have been made available from PEMA and FEMA if the district decided to build a middle school in a different location or expand beyond the footprint of the original building. In the event that the building should sustain further flood damage, both state organizations have pledged to help rebuild again, Schappert said.