TUPELO • Severe storm damage to the Vardaman school campus isn’t as serious as administrators originally feared, Calhoun County School District Superintendent Dr. Lisa Langford said Thursday.
District leaders originally thought Wednesday morning’s storms caused major structural damage to the three buildings on campus — Vardaman Elementary School, Vardaman High School and a tech building which serves primarily as a junior high building, hosting seventh and eighth-grade classes.
After a preliminary evaluation, an architect determined that all three buildings were structurally sound.
Vardaman students attended class virtually on Wednesday and Thursday because of the damage.
Langford believes Vardaman Elementary can return to in-person classes on Monday after consulting with the transportation department to make sure they have sufficient buses. While the main high school building could be repaired as soon as Friday, there are six unuseable classrooms in the tech building. It would be difficult to relocate those classes.
The superintendent said she’s hopeful that high school students can return to the classroom by the end of next week.
The storm that damaged the school buildings caught district leaders completely off guard. Calhoun County Schools closed on March 17 and March 25 due to Level 5 risk of severe weather. With a Level 1 risk Tuesday evening into early Wednesday morning, Langford didn’t think there was much to worry about.
“A lot of people out there in the community said it literally came out of nowhere,” Langford said.
Shortly after midnight, Langford was notified of damage to the school, and she began receiving photographs of the destruction before she ever stepped foot on the campus Wednesday morning.
“I was very concerned that we had big problems,” she said.
But after having the damage surveyed by professionals, Langford said, “It could’ve been so much worse.”
One wall of the tech building lost much of its brick siding, which will require the entire wall to be rebuilt, and requires repaired. An awning at the elementary school was destroyed and will have to be removed, along with a tree that was leaning against two others and had the potential to cause further damage. The high school’s roof will need some boards replaced, along with other repairs, but it’s in much better shape than originally thought, Langford said.
The storm front also damaged four buses — two route buses, which are used daily, and two substitute buses, which are typically used for athletic events and when other buses are being repaired.
One bus had all of its windows broken, while the other three had some damage to their windows. One bus’s doors were also damaged.
But Langford said that damage was “nothing that can’t be repaired,” and the buses have actually been sent off for repairs already.
As of right now, there is no estimated cost for the damage. An insurance adjustor surveyed buildings on Thursday morning and gave the district the go-ahead to begin cleanup efforts with help from the community.
“It’s unbelievable what they have accomplished,” Langford said. “This community is one of the most resilient and close-knit communities you’ll ever run across. I had no doubt that we would have everything in operational order in record time just because they’re going to do whatever it takes for those kids and that school.”
Langford met with a contractor, Byrum Construction of Starkville, on Thursday afternoon.
Their crew will be on campus Friday morning to begin work and believe they can have the elementary and high school buildings repaired that day.
A temporary repair to make four or five of the classrooms useable could be completed next week, which will allow them to be used again until permanent repairs can be completed during the summer.
With testing season approaching and COVID-19 regulations effecting how schools administer state tests, time is of the essence.
“We need to get back into school as quickly as we can so that we can meet the requirements the state department has set for us for our end of the year testing,” Langford said.