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Published March 31, 2009, 12:00 AM

Oak Grove school begins cleanup after breach

Fargo Oak Grove Lutheran senior Paul Spilde waded through several inches of water Monday to retrieve items from his sister’s locker at the school.

By: Kelly Smith, INFORUM

Fargo Oak Grove Lutheran senior Paul Spilde waded through several inches of water Monday to retrieve items from his sister’s locker at the school.

“I think they should just call off the fourth quarter. Let’s graduate early,” he joked.

It was the lighthearted tone Oak Grove students and staff had Monday – a stark contrast from the devastation they felt only a day earlier when a breach in the campus’ dike almost cost them their school.

By Monday, three of the five buildings remained dry as National Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and school officials continued the cleanup.

“The fact that we salvaged part of campus ... we still have hope here,” Oak Grove High School Principal Morgan Forness said, adding it was a greater loss in 1997 to lose Gorder Gymnasium. “Just the fact we’re maintaining this building is nothing short of a miracle.”

Crews worked Monday to patch up the dike’s leak – possibly started by soil erosion – as well as to pump water out of the campus and sandbag the floodwall to prevent another breach.

Forness, standing on a sandbag dike overlooking the school’s football field, watched crews work as the field sat inundated with 15 feet of water.

“This is the dike that saved the school,” he said.

But it wasn’t enough to save his office from 2 feet of water. Benson Hall and Jackson Hall also remained flooded. Crews had to let water back into Jackson Hall on Monday to stabilize pressure between the two halls.

In fact, the school is using Benson Hall as a dike.

“We have sacrificed that building for the integrity of the rest of the campus,” Forness said.

Volunteers have also sacrificed hours of work, laying about 50,000 sandbags around the campus and maintaining 24-hour dike patrol teams to monitor the floodwalls.

“We can’t even let our guard down today,” Oak Grove President Bruce Messelt said. “We’re still in response mode.”

Recovery mode, it seems, may be a long ways off.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Forness, who was one of the school leaders who met with Federal Emergency Manage Agency officials Monday to discuss federal aid for the damage.

While officials aren’t sure when the 300 middle and high school students will resume classes, both Concordia College in Moorhead and Fargo Public Schools have offered space for Oak Grove to relocate temporarily.

“We’re not giving up our home,” Messelt said, adding they’ll continue to fight even if another dike breaks. “If given another chance, we’ll be there. It’s the nature of Oak Grove; it’s the nature of Fargo Moorhead.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515

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