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All But Three St. Croix Schools Will Reopen Tuesday

Oct. 20, 2008 — After a weekend in which cleanup crews mopped up mud and water, cleared brush and replaced enough sodden ceiling tiles to fill trash bins, most St. Croix schools will reopen Tuesday.
The three schools to remain closed Tuesday are the Alfredo Andrews and Charles Emanuel Elementary and the John Woodson Junior High schools. These schools are still experiencing several problems, including electrical and aesthetic issues, said Gary Molloy, St. Croix superintendent of schools.
"Our school teams, contractors, community partners and other recovery agencies, such as WAPA (the V.I. Water and Power Authority), Public Works, V.I. Army National Guard, Hovensa and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), were out this past weekend feverishly working to get the schools ready and back on track," Molloy said, according to an Education Department news release. "A great deal was accomplished and the district is extremely grateful for their efforts, because it could not have been done this quickly without their support. The district wants to say a special thank you to all of the teachers and support staff that was present in numbers to also assist with the recovery."
Widespread power outages in the wake of Hurricane Omar also hit the schools.
"Our weather head for utility service started to burn when the power was turned on," Woodson Principal Vaughn Hewitt said Monday afternoon at the school. "That's definitely our biggest problem right now. We are ready to go except for power. We'll just have to wait and see."
Nearly every school has replaced large numbers of wet ceiling tiles and had to clean up some mud and water, but some more than others.
"There was 10 inches of water in a 30-by-30-foot room at Alfredo Andrews," said Tyrone Molyneux, president of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers. "That's a lot of water. A lot of furniture I think has been damaged, especially some new sofas and chairs made out of particle board."
Daryl Richards, principal at Alfredo Andrews, confirmed this general picture.
"This school took in a lot of water," he said. "The cistern backed up into the school. There is no outflow for overflow. Right now we are waiting on the fire department to pump out the cistern, because we're due for more rain this weekend."
The school is grateful to Hovensa for sending over people to help clean up at Alfredo Andrews over the weekend, Richards said. The mess was extensive and cleanup continues.
"We just got power back today, but it is only partial power so far," he said."We are probably looking at at least two more days before staff can come back in, teachers can look at their classrooms and prepare to bring the students back."
The electrical problems at Woodson caused the partial power failure at Andrews, Molloy said.
"Currently we have a crew on site at Woodson working on the problem, which entails the replacement of wiring," Molloy said. "The Charles Emanuel School is still without power, and the Water and Power Authority is diligently working to rectify the issues, which lie with a problematic line at the western end of the campus."
Most of the schools are ready to go, however. At school campuses all over St. Croix, damaged trees were already trimmed, branches and debris gone or in neat piles, the grounds free of trash and the sounds of lawnmowers and weed trimmers were in the air as work crews finished up.
"There were a lot of branches to clean up and we replaced a lot of wet ceiling tiles," said Elena Christian Jr. High Principal Carlos McGregor. "But the school looks great, and we are ready to open."
St. Croix Central High School is doing pretty well, too, Principal Chermaine Hobson-Johnson said.
"The National Guard came out as volunteers, helping us remove debris and clean up on Saturday, which we're really grateful for," she said. "Power is up, Internet is up and the phones are up. The air conditioning for the second floor of the gym is down, so it will be really hot up there until that is fixed. But we're ready to go."
After the storm, Eulalie Rivera Elementary seemed to be one of the most damaged schools, with a large tree resting on the main building, utility poles down on campus and a pumping station leaking raw sewage because there's no electricity to keep the station working.
"The tree just knocked down a piece of gutter and it's been replaced," Rivera Principal Cheryl Willocks said. "We're actually doing pretty well. People are working in the cafeteria replacing floor tiles as we speak. The school should open tomorrow."
Molloy asks parents to ensure that students receive a hearty breakfast before their arrival at school Tuesday morning, as the breakfast program will not resume until Wednesday.
"As a result of having to relocate food items from schools to alternate sites, we have not yet gotten a complete inventory returned to the schools for the breakfast program," he said. "But be assured that all students will receive their lunches starting tomorrow. Buses will resume their regular runs for students who routinely utilize the program, as well."
Gov. John deJongh Jr. issued a statement Monday in which he acknowledged the inconvenience that the continued closure of the school may cause parents.
"All efforts are being made to reopen these schools as expeditiously as possible," he said.
Updated information on the status of these schools will be issued by midday Tuesday, according to the Government House statement.
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