Floodwaters catch school system off guard

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Sarah Nagem
By the time officials with the Rowan-Salisbury School System realized how high some creeks had risen Wednesday morning, buses had already started their routes picking up students.
Some buses that had to navigate high waters arrived at schools late. But the school system had few other busing problems Wednesday, Transportation Director Judy Burris said.
The floods caught the school system off guard. When Burris checked the weather update Tuesday evening, no flood watches or warnings had been issued for Rowan.
“This was totally unexpected for us,” Burris said.
If schools had expected bad weather, the school system would have followed its regular inclement weather plan Wednesday morning. Workers would have headed out at 4 a.m. to inspect road conditions throughout the county.
But that didn’t happen, Burris said.
Instead, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office called Burris’ department around 5:25 a.m. and said the county had some flooding. The first bus had rolled out of the lot about 15 minutes before the call came.
There was no time to call the buses back even if she had wanted to, Burris said. Children would have already been heading to bus stops by the time word got around.
“We did what we felt like we needed to do at the time,” she said.
Buses weren’t able to pick up students on certain routes. Water rose at Innes Street, Glover Road, Park Road off Mahaley Street and other places throughout the county.
Water at Park Road blocked the main entrance to Knox Middle and Overton Elementary schools.
Bus drivers and parents who dropped off their kids used back roads to get there, the schools’ principals said.
The last buses arrived at Overton a little before 8 a.m., Principal Betty Tunks said. Buses are scheduled to be there by 7:30.
“A lot of parents brought students in,” Tunks said.
Only one or two students were absent from Overton because of the weather, she said.
Rowan-Salisbury schools did not consider any students tardy Wednesday.
Some buses ran about 25 minutes late at Knox, Principal Gerald MoragneEl said.
One of the school’s buildings had some flooding. Water seeped into a seventh-grade language arts classroom and two offices, including MoragneEl’s, he said.
Water also got into the cafeteria.
The flooding didn’t cause any damage, MoragneEl said. Workers mopped up the mess, and classes continued as usual.
MoragneEl, the new principal at Knox, said he was worried when the saw 2 feet or so of water standing on Park Road.
“This is my third day on the job,” he said. “For me, it was an end-of-the-world experience.”
But other than the delayed buses and some flooding, MoragneEl said the school didn’t have problems.
He said workers will put fill dirt behind the building that flooded to keep water away.
“We shouldn’t have that problem again,” he said.
The Rowan-Salisbury system didn’t hear many complaints from parents Wednesday, schools spokeswoman Rita Foil said.
She said Superintendent Judy Grissom errs on the side of caution when it comes to bad weather รณ school is delayed or canceled if roads are dangerous.
Kannapolis City Schools opened two hours late Wednesday, and Cabarrus County schools were closed. With the late schedule, buses began their routes in Kannapolis a little after 8 a.m. Wednesday.Salisbury Academy canceled classes Wednesday because of flooding in the building. Kindergarten classes are canceled the rest of the week.
Water came in under a door and saturated some middle school classrooms, said Diane Fisher, the private school’s acting administrator.
One computer was ruined, but the furniture is OK, Fisher said. Workers cleaned and dried the carpets. “We were very fortunate,” she said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Burris said she expected a smooth ride home for students. Crews checked roads throughout the day to make sure buses could get through.
Bus drivers planned for alternate routes around blocked roadways, such as Hollywood Drive in Salisbury, Old Beatty Ford Road at U.S. 52 and Innes Street at Interstate 85.
Rowan-Salisbury schools work crews were to head out and check road conditions throughout the county at 4 a.m. today, Burris said.