Comstock Park — Structural damage caused by an EF1 tornado to upper-level third grade rooms last week Thursday, August 24, caused the district to close Pine Island Elementary until Wednesday for fourth- and fifth-grade students and until Sept. 5 for third-grade students.
The district’s first day back to school was Monday, Aug. 21.
“We are very aware of the hardship this temporary closure causes your families and apologize,” Superintendent David Washburn wrote in a letter sent to parents on Monday. “However, at this time, safety is a priority and we must assure that the building and learning spaces are safe, set up and prepared for your student’s return.”
Washburn said the district is working with a structural engineer to assess the structural integrity, with initial assessments indicating “more damage than originally anticipated with the upper-level third-grade classrooms.”
“While we await further testing, it is clear that several rooms within the building are not suitable for class and will require construction efforts,” he stated in the letter.
Staff has begun the process of moving third-grade classrooms into other rooms within Pine Island, Washburn said. Tree-removal crews have been clearing the grounds and roofing and cleaning companies were scheduled for this morning.
“We appreciate your support during this trying time,” Washburn wrote. “Please rest assured, we are doing our best to expedite this process, but will not do so at the expense of the safety and security of our students.”
A Community Comes Together
Within hours after the tornado came through, community members came together to help remove brush and assess damages. High School Principal Kendra Faustin said she saw a construction company in a neighborhood near Pine Island Elementary helping with storm-related construction needs, such as boarding up windows.
“The community support has been unbelievable and very much appreciated,” Washburn said in a separate statement. “The staff is resilient and we will get through this together.”
Faustin echoed those sentiments as she described what she saw on the night of the tornado and the next day. The high school had already delayed its Thursday JV football game due to extreme heat, when about 15 minutes into the game lightning caused them to cancel, Faustin said.
“When the thunderstorm warning came, we figured we were done with the game,” she said, adding that people were sheltering inside the high school. “Then about 12 to 14 minutes later, the tornado warning came.”
The high school did not sustain damage, though a tree fell into the school’s entrance and people were unable to leave.
Once the tree was removed, Faustin said she headed over to Pine Island Elementary, the area where the tornado had been reported, to assess the building.
“From the outside of the building, everything looked fine; you couldn’t tell anything was wrong,” Faustin said.
Faustin went into the nearby neighborhood, where she found the Comstock Park community doing what it does best — helping each other.
“Just as many people, if not more, were helping out,” said Athletic Director Charlie Hess of the next day’s clean-up efforts. “Neighbors were pitching in. They would work on one person’s yard and then move on to the next.”
‘The community support has been unbelievable and very much appreciated. The staff is resilient and we will get through this together.’— Superintendent David Washburn
Clean-Up Will Take Time
Faustin said high school students will spend Thursday, a half day of school, volunteering to help clear brush and aid in other clean-up tasks.
“As a community, students and staff, we can help move trees, cut branches and move brush,” she said. Faustin has received several requests for clean-up assistance. Students are organizing volunteer efforts, with staff planning site visits on Wednesday to determine what needs to be done.
School counselors and social workers have also been on hand at the school to help students work through what has happened.
“We have such varying degrees of the impact from the storm,” Faustin said. “There are some who have lost power to others who have lost their homes.”
The district is learning of other needs, too. A teacher who lives in York Creek Apartments noted the complex was without power for several days, resulting in residents having to throw out food. District officials have been in contact with the nonprofit food program Hand2Hand and the food bank Feeding America.
As people assess the full impact of the tornado and work to rebuild, Faustin said the district will learn of other needs and, with the Comstock Park community, will work to help address them.
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