Schools across area still recovering from ‘Snowmageddon’

A week of snow was promptly followed by a week of recovery for local schools. After the snow storm blitzed the area starting on Feb. 24, schools across the area — for the most part — were able to open their doors once again on March 4. While some schools it was business as usual, the snow that continues to stick around presented a unique set of problems for schools all the way from Yoncalla to Cottage Grove.

But no area was more impacted by the storm than Elkton where the city is still without power.

“The freaky part about that is once things started to go down and the power went out, we lost all communication with everybody up here,” said Elkton superintendent Andy Boe. “Every redundant system (was down): cell towers, internet, pigeons, whatever. I didn’t talk to anybody up here until basically Thursday morning.”

In Elkton, both the city and school came to a halt with power out everywhere and no way to get in touch with anyone. On top of those issues, most individuals were stuck at their houses due to the roads being blocked by downed trees. On Thursday Feb. 28, Boe was able to make his way to Cottage Grove where he, for the first time all week, had the chance to start making some phone calls. Boe was told that power in Elkton was predicted to be out for at least the next four weeks.

In conversations with the Elkton school board chairman and maintenance director, it was decided that the district would get generators at both the high school and the grade school. Each generators costs $9,000 a week to rent in addition to fuel costs. Boe estimated that the school will pay over $50,000 for the generators.

“We can’t not (have the generators). Our option was don’t run school and I thought it was better to get kids in school. That was the right decision even though it will cost so much money,” said Boe.

But the generators quickly went beyond helping just the school as the Red Cross set up an emergency shelter in the Elkton gym on Saturday March 2. By Sunday, the word was out and people made their way to the gym where they were able to get a hot shower, warm meal and a place to charge their phones.

“People were so appreciative,” said Red Cross Regional Volunteer Services Officer Hanna Malak who was at the site from Saturday to Wednesday. “The way they looked and felt after a shower, it seemed so simple. I shower every day and I can’t imagine going a full week without a shower and these folks didn’t have the option.”

The gym, which also had cots for individuals to stay the night, stayed busy throughout the week but peaked on Monday with 143 served at dinner. In addition to the Red Cross, two members of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief were on hand with a trailer that has four additional showers, one washing machine and one dryer. Elkton residents put left their laundry in the gym and the Southern Baptist volunteers washed, dried and folded the clothes.

“We’re working from day up to dark to try and get through the laundry,” said 82-year-old volunteer Howard Martin.

At of this printing, the Red Cross had not identified an end date for operating at Elkton High School.

With the Red Cross in place and power at the school, classes resumed, with a two-hour delay in place until power comes back on, on Monday March 4 across Elkton.

“The community really feels like this is the right place for kids to be, even though they have fires to set at home and water to draw and all that stuff. People are serving kids and that’s really cool,” said Boe. “I know it’s really, really hard for people but they’re not saying it. They’re not expressing it. I mean, it’s just, let’s go do this type of thing.”

The Elkton school district has school four days a week which will allow the schools to add any missed days on various Fridays throughout the rest of the year. The district may also tack on an additional day at the end of the year.

In Cottage Grove at the South Lane School District, the schools, except for Dorena, were able to start back up last Monday. Cottage Grove High School had minor water damage but as a whole, the district withstood the storm.

“In all, the staff did remarkable. It was just that no one ever expected this,” said SLSD interim superintendent Dr. Larry Sullivan. “You can plan and we’ll certainly go over our procedures in the short term and we’ll do that and see what we can do better. We plan for some things but not something with that significance and that level.”

After the roads began to clear up, the next step for SLSD was to get schools up and running again, a process that Sullivan estimates takes a day and a half. That process includes getting the buildings heated, clearing debris in parking lots and ensuring the kitchens are able to prepare meals.

Similarly to Elkton, SLSD also worked with the city and Red Cross as they got the old Harrison building back and running to prepare an emergency shelter in Cottage Grove.

“That took an immense amount of work to get that building up and going so we could house the shelter. The Red Cross folks were absolutely phenomenal,” said Sullivan.

In North Douglas and Yoncalla, the schools had a similar experiences of cancelling school for the week but were able to avoid any large-scale damage.

“When you look at our facilities and the surrounding area, we survived pretty well,” said North Douglas superintendent John Lahley. “Building wise we had no issues.”

It was the sentiment in Yoncalla. “It could have been a lot worse for us,” said Yoncalla superintendent Brian Berry. 


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