Sunday, September 28, 2003

Storm-trashed school: When it rains, it pours

By Liz Oakes and Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DEERFIELD TWP. - Four blocks from Vortex Drive at the Kings junior-senior high campus, Matt Koenig drove a golf cart to the storm-damaged junior high to help deal with the district's latest crisis.

9 storm photos
"It's been a real whirlwind of events, from the lead situation to this," the district's athletic director said Saturday afternoon as he approached a mangled fleet of buses, as well as a torn roof and collapsed interior wall at the school.

The 63-acre Columbia Road campus was possibly the hardest-hit area in Warren County, which bore the brunt of Saturday's fast-moving, early morning storm.

Wind gusts of up to 100 mph severely damaged a Mason medical office and a South Lebanon church, and knocked down the landmark 50-foot marquee sign at Paramount's Kings Island.

The damage was the latest in a string of setbacks for the district of 3,800 students:

• In August, the high school football stadium and practice fields were closed to remove lead-contaminated soil. The fields aren't expected to reopen before next school year.

• Earlier this school year, the district had to purchase HEPA-filter vacuums to remove mold at the high school. School employees are being trained on how to identify the problem and remove it.

• School officials, under the direction of new superintendent Chuck Mason, are dealing with overcrowding at the junior and senior high schools. The rejection by voters in May of a $43 million expansion plan didn't help.

Saturday's storm damage to the building and contents was estimated at $100,000, township fire crews said.

No estimates were available for the damaged bus fleet.

Only one of the district's 52 buses escaped unscathed, district spokeswoman Beth Wagner said. Dozens of windows were shattered by flying gravel and one bus was smashed after winds lifted a nearby storage shed off its foundation and slammed it onto the roof.

The south end of the 36-year-old junior high, which about 640 students attend, took the brunt of the wind, school officials said.

"I feel like we're all pulling together because of all the bad things happening to us," said 15-year-old sophomore Katie Moon of Deerfield Township.

Since environmental tests confirmed the presence of lead, school officials have received dozens of calls from people asking how they can help.

After George G. King Memorial Stadium closed earlier this month, parent volunteers moved concession stands and other game-related operations to the nearby Galbreath Field so student athletes would have a place to play.

They also helped maintenance workers repair the once-abandoned stadium.

Parents were also prepared Saturday to caravan the 115-member marching band and equipment to Fairborn, near Dayton, so students would not miss the season's first competition.

Instead, the district borrowed four buses from nearby Little Miami School District.

"It's been raining on us for so long, but parents just do what it takes to help," Wagner said.

Sophomore Chris Del Vecchio of Deerfield Township and his dad, Earl, helped collect band equipment that had scattered after a storage unit's roof was blown off and onto the tennis courts.

"I pulled up at the junior high, and I was just overwhelmed," the 15-year-old percussionist said.

A gaping hole that was once the cafeteria's picture window left twisted metal exposed. The junior high roof suffered damage, and a wall collapsed in a maintenance office.

Custodians, some of whom had been on the job since 3 p.m. Friday, worked through the afternoon, sweeping up glass and gathering scattered debris.

School employees arrived as early as 4 a.m. to grab computers, printers and old records to remove them from flooded rooms.

"We've joked about getting shirts that say: 'Neither lead, nor wind nor rain ...' " assistant high school band director Mike Maegly said. "Hey, we've got to hit what's thrown our way."

The district canceled Monday classes.

For updated information, check the district's Web site,, or call the district, 398-8050.

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