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Published April 01, 2009, 12:00 AM

Schools prepare to reopen Monday

Fargo school officials are working to turn the war zones at several of its schools back to school zones in time for classes to resume Monday.

By: Kelly Smith, INFORUM

Fargo school officials are working to turn the war zones at several of its schools back to school zones in time for classes to resume Monday.

“We basically have a bomb that has been dropped,” Centennial Elementary Principal Jeff Reznecheck said. There’s mud “basically everywhere” at the school off 25th Street South at 42nd Avenue.

A 40- to 50-foot-deep hole sits where soccer fields once were. Piles of dirt soar 20 to 30 feet high. And a film of 1 to 2 inches of clay cakes the parking lots.

“We hope we begin Monday, but there’s a few things that need to be done at Centennial,” Reznecheck said said.

In fact, a lot of work is needed to get area schools ready – especially in Fargo – before students return to classrooms Monday.

“We really messed up your schools,” Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney told the School Board and administration this week. “Remind people this is an epic flood. You can’t get things back on line (right away).”

The district has to reclaim buses that shuttled evacuees, rearrange bus routes due to some closed roads and recover some school buildings.

Besides Centennial, Discovery Middle School, and Clara Barton, Longfellow, Bennett and Lincoln elementary schools were used as either staging areas to dig and pile dirt for nearby dikes or as housing for quick response teams.

Quick response teams of about a dozen National Guard members and Fargo firefighters are on standby 24/7 in case a dike breaches. They’ll stay at the schools even after school resumes Monday.

“We certainly don’t want to give that up,” district spokesman Lowell Wolff said. “They’ll stay there as long as needed.”

Carl Ben Eielson Middle School was used to shelter volunteers who have now left. A Red Cross shelter will stay at South Campus II.

Other area schools don’t have as much work to do but are still gearing up.

E Like in Fargo, the Moorhead School District may have to rearrange bus routes around dikes or closed streets before classes resume Monday, Superintendent Lynne Kovash said.

Other than that, she said she’s working with Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren on waiving the missed school days so the district doesn’t have to add on to the school year.

The Red Cross will continue to be housed out of Moorhead High School’s fieldhouse.

E In West Fargo, the district has to recover 20 buses and space at Cheney Middle School, West Fargo High School and L.E. Berger used for the flood fight. Harwood Elementary will remain closed, with students and staff relocated to other schools in the district.

E At North Dakota State University, crews need to clear snow around campus before classes resume Monday, spokeswoman Najla Amundson said. The campus is closed until 12:01 a.m. Monday. NDSU’s residence halls, dining services and other essential services are open.

E At Minnesota State University Moorhead, residence halls will open at noon Sunday, with classes slated to start up Monday. The biggest question is if students, who were told to evacuate last week, will be back in time.

“Of course, our concern is, ‘Will we have students?’ ” spokesman Doug Hamilton said. “If we have to, we’ll make an adjustment.”

The campus is closed today due to weather. Otherwise, campus offices will be open this week.

E Water and sewage are still off at Concordia College. The school’s staff is working with the city to make sure water and sewer are turned back on in time for Monday’s classes, spokeswoman Amy Kelly said. Officials will open the campus and residential halls at 10 a.m. Sunday.

E Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead is closed today, but offices are expected to be open the rest of the week. Classes resume Monday.

City crews and the U.S. Army Corps will work with Fargo school officials through the night the next few days to get them back to normal.

“Any public infrastructure is the highest priority,” engineer Darrell Morey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. “The schools will be No. 1.”

If damage isn’t repaired by Monday, crews will fence off those areas to keep kids safe while cleanup continues.

Wolff said at 38 feet, river levels could inundate Discovery Middle School, Bennett Elementary and Centennial Elementary if a dike breaks. But at 37 feet – the level the river is expected to be at by Saturday – they would be safe.

Starting Monday means students will have missed eight days – days the district hopes they won’t have to make up if the state approves.

“I’m fairly confident they will be forgiven,” Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Bob Grosz said. “It will be difficult because we will have lost those eight days, which are critical.”

Superintendent Rick Buresh also isn’t concerned.

“Our kids had lessons in civic service,” Buresh said. He estimated that one-third of the district’s 10,000-plus students helped sandbag. “They’re a part of making history in our community.”

Area schools used in flood fight

  • Moorhead High School: Red Cross shelter

  • Fargo’s Centennial Elementary and Discovery Middle School: staging areas to dig and pile dirt

    for nearby dikes

  • Fargo’s Clara Barton, Longfellow, Bennett and Lincoln Elementary schools: house QRT – quick response teams

  • Fargo’s Carl Ben Eielson Middle School: shelter volunteers; they’ve now left

  • Fargo’s South Campus II: Red Cross shelter

  • West Fargo’s Cheney Middle School, West Fargo High School and L.E. Berger: house emergency personal and developmentally disabled

Central Cass High School: Red Cross shelter

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