EL RENO — It's been a busy summer for El Reno school crews as they work to get campuses battered by hail, high winds and torrential rains ready for a new school year.
School Superintendent Craig McVay said fall semester classes will start on time, Aug. 15, despite damage that could exceed $3 million.
El Reno was hammered May 31 by a storm system that spawned tornadoes southwest and east of El Reno. An EF5 tornado tore through the El Reno campus of the Canadian Valley Technology Center, destroying four buildings and heavily damaging four others.
“We're still not sure of the total loss; we're working on it,” McVay said of the El Reno school damage. Hail in some parts of the district exceeded three inches in diameter, and heavy rain penetrated damaged roofs and soaked building interiors.
The exact loss figure will not be known until architects determine whether roofs at Rose Witcher and Hillcrest elementary schools and Etta Dale Junior High can be salvaged or must be replaced.
“If we have to replace those roofs the damage could go over $3 million,” McVay said.
McVay said there were no injuries in the storm that struck about 4 p.m. Summer school classes were affected in June but went on nevertheless, as did the summer recreation program.
The situation has been “difficult but not unmanageable,” said McVay, who took over as superintendent in January after four years as superintendent at Roff in Pontotoc County.
The district's insurance policy will cover most of the repair costs, he said. And McVay said he was assured by FEMA that federal disaster funds will cover costs not covered by insurance, such as replacing trees at several school sites.
“We lost dozens of trees,” he said. “Some were 100-year-old trees, particularly at Witcher and at the high school.”
The superintendent praised school personnel for their response to the storm's aftermath, including some whose own homes were damaged.
“The entire faculty are professionals who care deeply about kids, each other and our schools,” McVay said. “They have also been working to get things back to normal while helping our community to clean up and repair their homes and businesses.”
He said the district's operations manager, Jeff Johnson, and his crew worked through the night to deal with water that came through the roof of the former YMCA building, which the school system owns. The water ruined the nearly new gym floor, causing it to warp in several places and buckle at one corner. The floor will have to be replaced, Johnson said.
Johnson said hailstones about four inches in diameter devastated the roof at the “Y” building.
McVay listed damage as major at El Reno High School, Etta Dale Junior High and at Hillcrest and Rose Witcher elementary schools.
The storm left minor damage at Webster Elementary and Roblyer Middle School, he said. Roofs were considered total losses at Lincoln Elementary, the “Y,” Jenks Simmons Fieldhouse, the Blue Room football fieldhouse and at the Marsh Memorial building that houses band and the alternative school.
Glass damage was extensive throughout the school system, he said.
McVay said El Reno Mayor Matt White and City Manager Tony Rivera alerted officials and about 175 children who were participating in the summer recreation program at the city swimming pool.
“The storm hit about 4 o'clock,” McVay said. “They went to the pool at 2 and said the storm was imminent and we needed to get the kids out of the pool. By 3 we had everybody out of the pool, well in advance of the storm.”
Canadian Valley rebuilding
Canadian Valley Technology Center officials continue to deal with an estimated $30 million in damage to the El Reno campus.
Bill Kramer, Canadian Valley communications and marketing coordinator, said the campus will undergo almost total reconstruction. Portions of two buildings are salvageable, but there was significant damage to all eight campus buildings, he said.
“It will be an 18-month to two-year process,” he said.
School officials leased the former John Holt Chevrolet dealership on Garth Brooks Boulevard in Yukon, and work is progressing on converting the 93,000-square-foot building into classroom space. Most full-time programs will be taught in the Holt building, Kramer said.
Some Canadian Valley administrative offices are being housed at the school's Cowan campus on S Czech Hall Road in Yukon, Kramer said. The Church of Christ South Yukon offered space at the church rent-free for Canadian Valley's day care operation and the early learning program.
“It's important to get that program up and running,” Kramer said.