Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TOP STORY >> High school hit, but plans are to reopen it Friday

Leader senior staff writer

North Pulaski High School will reopen Friday, and the junior-senior prom will be held as scheduled at the Junior League Center in downtown Little Rock that evening, district spokesman Deborah Roush said Tuesday after high winds—possibly a tornado—ripped the metal roof from Sandy Reed Auditorium, blew out a block-and-brick wall and turned the science lab into an open-air classroom teetering atop a storage area.

Arnold Drive Elementary School on the storm-ravaged Little Rock Air Force Base will reopen Wednesday if electricity is restored there.

Even as officials, engineers, insurance inspectors and workmen swarmed, what remains of North Pulaski High School’s Sandy Reed Auditorium and north-end classrooms, Pulaski County Special School District senior staff moved forward. Principal Jeff Senn and teachers worked out new classroom assignments.

A temporary wall will separate about 15 damaged classrooms and the auditorium from the usable portions of the school, leaving the north-end restrooms and the media center, according to Timothy J. Miles, risk administrator for Central Arkansas Risk Management Association.

This shouldn’t affect district plans to sell $104 million in construction bonds to build three new schools in Jacksonville and do extreme makeovers of four others, Derek Scott, PCSSD chief of operations, told Roush. The North Pulaski repairs will be paid for by insurance.

Miles said the district and its schools self-insure through CARMA, and that repair work should be able to begin immediately. Miles said the building was insured for replacement cost.

“I certainly hope (they’ll rebuild it),” said Sara Cooke, who teaches stage craft in the badly damaged auditorium.

“The roof always did leak,” said Cooke, a 20-year teacher. “I have too many memories.”

Her classroom was on the stage of the auditorium.

Standing with her was choir director Robert Craig. “It’s a whole lot worse than I expected,” he said. There were end-of-the year concerts planned for the auditorium, and the grand prom march “would have been here Friday,” he said.

Early in the morning, officials notified the state Department of Education that end-of-year biology exams would not be administered Tuesday as originally scheduled. Classes and extracurricular activities were canceled until the reopening of school Friday.

Inside the school, workers from Metro Builders mopped and squeegeed water from the floors and picked up soaked panels of fiberglass insulation and ceiling tiles, while atop the building, workers from Roof Maintenance, Inc. nailed loose roofing and covered some compromised portions with tarps.

Both PCSSD security and Jacksonville Police arrived on the scene late Monday night to secure the site.

Oak trees were uprooted on school grounds, while across Harris Road, a pair of airmen patrolled about 100 yards of downed chain link—ironically known as “hurricane” or “cyclone”—fence along the perimeter of the Little Rock Air Force Base.

The base reportedly had damage to about 100 houses.

“We’ve had to relocate about 40 families,” said Mary Holladay Sopko,” a spokeswoman for Pinnacle management, which owns and leases those houses. A handful of houses were destroyed or seriously damaged, she said. Fortunately, some could move into newly renovated houses. Hunt-Pinnacle has insurance on the buildings and each family has at least $20,000 in personal property insurance.

“We jumped in today, and started assessing damage,” she said. “We have teams coming in from Hunt and Pinnacle. Some Hunt construction crews were already on site, finishing up the remodeling.”

Arlo Taylor, a base public-information officer, said most of the damage was to houses on Tennessee and Pennsylvania drives and to some of new housing.

The Little Rock office of the National Weather Service had teams evaluating the damage in from the destructive tornado in Vilonia and it was determined to be an EF-2 tornado, according to Chris Buonanno, the science and operations officer. He said no determination of the Jacksonville-area storm had yet been made.