WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - When New Hanover County students are allowed to return to class, hundreds of them may be shuffled to other campuses as crews continue to repair school facilities damaged by Hurricane Florence.
Three schools in the county, College Park Elementary, Williams Elementary, and Gregory Elementary, all sustained substantial enough flooding that school administrators do not expect them to be ready for students when other schools tentatively open on October 4. Additionally, Hoggard High School is still being used as a shelter for displaced storm victims, but school officials anticipate it will be ready for students by October 4.
As of Thursday afternoon, 27 of NHCS’s 45 school buildings had been deemed safe by environmental consultants. School Board Member Bruce Shell said he asked administrators how confident they were they’d be able to open October 4, since officials had originally anticipated students would be able to return to class by October 1.
“They said, ‘Unless we find something else, we think we can meet that goal. We wouldn’t offer it if we didn’t think we could, but we don’t want to be crucified if we find something,’” Shell relayed, saying there was always the possibility crews could uncover more damage that has not already been identified.
Shell said in addition to structural damage, remediation crews are also trying to make sure there is no mold in classrooms when children return.
While nothing is set in stone yet, Superintendent Tim Markley’s tentative plan on October 4 calls for kindergarten and first grade students at College Park Elementary School to move to Castle Hayne Elementary while repairs at College Park are finished. The older students at College Park will be able to stay, utilizing mobile classrooms on their own campus that were not significantly damaged.
Williams Elementary students would move to Coddington Elementary when classes resume. Coddington is a year-round school, and its students were already scheduled to be on break at that time. Details on where Gregory Elementary students would attended class are not clear. All 3 campuses could be open again for students as soon as October 8th.
New Hanover County School Board members voted Wednesday to transfer $4 million from their fund balance to the Emergency Operating Fund to cover the immediate cost of repairs. They hope to be reimbursed by insurance or FEMA for the cost of those repairs, but it could take a year for that reimbursement to come through.
Shell said the board has heard some criticism that the total fund balance was $15 million, but he thought this was a case in point of why it was important to have those reserves on hand. Shell said if Florence had been a Category 3, $15 million may not have even been enough to cover the cost of repairs.
State Senator Michael Lee has drafted a bill that would forgive schools impacted by Hurricane Florence from having to make-up all the time missed because of the storm, which will be well over 3 weeks for New Hanover County students if students are able to return on October 4. Senator Lee says lawmakers will convene in Raleigh on Tuesday, October 2, and he expected the bill could be introduced and passed the same day.