After the Storm: One Year Later Owego schools recover
Students across the region are headed back to school this week. In Owego, many people are hoping the academic year gets off to a better start than the last one. It was the first day of school when Tropical Storm Lee left its mark on two schools in Owego last year. In Part One of a week-long look back at the devastation from Lee and the recovery efforts over the last 12 months, YNN’s Melissa Kakareka shows us how far those schools have come.
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OWEGO, N.Y. -- Owego was one of the areas hit the hardest by Tropical Storm Lee one year ago, and schools were among the many buildings inundated by floodwaters. Over the past year, the Owego-Apalachin School District has worked to get many of its buildings and athletic fields back to normal.
"OA and the middle school are back and are functioning as they normally would, we still have to do what FEMA would call some mitigation work on the high school which will happen this fall," said Bill Russell, Owego-Apalachin Superintendent.
But there is still a long way to go. Owego Elementary School was deemed a total loss. Those students and staff remain at Linnaeus West Elementary School in Endicott.
While school officials still haven't received the formal paperwork, FEMA has said they will fund the replacement of the school, which could be ready in the fall of 2014.
"We are working with a design and engineering team to work on demolition and reconstruction, probably at the same site and elevated,” said Russell.
But the district continues to battle with FEMA, as uncertainty remains about three of its other damaged buildings.
"We are struggling with FEMA to get a response about whether to relocate and rebuild...it's the administration building, maintenance facility, storage facility, so far we're not hearing anything. FEMA won't return calls and schedule a meeting. We've had our paperwork in since July," said Russell.
As the Owego-Apalachin district looks for answers to its questions, St. Patrick School in Owego has traveled down its own path of recovery. Last year at this time, the school's basement was filled with water, damaging classrooms, school records, and the furnace and hot water heater. Students had to be relocated to Our Lady of Good Counsel in Endicott.
"I remember coming back a couple days later and seeing everything that was in this room ready for school to start out in the garbage pile and it was heart wrenching," said Wendy Riesbeck, St. Patrick School teacher.
Most students returned to the school in November with the exception of the school's three-year-olds, who spent all of last year in another building on the St. Patrick campus. But those three-year-olds are coming back to a newly remodeled classroom in the basement of the school's main building this fall.
"We are extremely fortunate that the water stopped right where it did right at the top of the first floor because that allowed us to rebuild and get this far in that amount of time," said Paula Smith, St. Patrick Principal.
As both schools move toward the future, administrators agree that there's been one bright spot in the entire rebuilding process. And that's the support that was given by students, staff, and community volunteers, many of whom put aside working on their own flooded homes to help the schools get where they are one year later.
The school year is definitely starting out on a good note. During a welcome back event for staff and faculty Tuesday morning, Superintendent Russell announced that FEMA had agreed to fund the replacement of not just the Owego Elementary School, but also for OA's administration building, its maintenance facility, and its maintenance storage facility.