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After a week’s cleanup, schools ready Monday

Posted on Saturday, September 16, 2017 at 6:00 am

By Ken Jackson

Staff Writer

The Osceola County School District knows that parents want to get their children back in school as soon as possible to return to a normal way of life after Hurricane Irma made a mess around here — a big mess at many schools and facilities.

Staff and officials feel confident that school will be back in session on Monday, after closing for six school days due to Irma. To open all of them, the safety and security of students must be ensured. Upwards of 200 people have been working 12-14 hour days dealing with issues on campuses under the direction of Lester Yeates, who came on board as the district’s Director of Safety, Security, and Emergency Management on June 26.

“We’ve met every day to get our normal back. We’re pushing hard every day to get back open,” said Yeates, who noted that as a whole the district was “getting real close” to full readiness by Thursday. Following a weekend of dealing with the last details, Monday is a confident go.

Getting power to all schools has been the biggest issue, along with establishing power to lift stations in the Poinciana area so those schools have clean water without straining the systems. Among the other details: flooding in the school driveways and bus loops, standing water that breached doors and got inside on floors, cracks in buildings, downed power lines, electrical fixtures, damp ceiling tiles, damaged storage sheds and units, mold elimination and re-establishing digital lines.

“It’s a whole gamut of hazards, different in every place, and it all has to be dealt with,” Yeates said. “Our No. 1 priority is the safety of our kids.”

Many departments have pitched in. Individual school administrators and custodial teams worked on their own campuses. Yeates mentioned Health and Safety and Building Maintenance, and then School Nutrition Services and Community Relations, while not working on buildings, supported low-income students by taking meals and weekend to-go bags to certain locations on Thursday and Friday.

“I’m amazed how quick everyone’s working, they’ve done wonders,” he said.

Crews have been focusing on the inside of schools before going outside. People might still see tree debris on the ground and other cosmetic things — like the sign for Kissimmee Elementary floating in a pond across the street — but the flow of students into buildings won’t be impeded.

Name a problem, and Osceola County School for the Arts got it from Irma. Trees and standing water blocked bus and car drop-offs and the access road to the cafeteria. A foot of water collected in the auditorium’s orchestra pit. Hallways had standing water. Ceiling tiles were replaced. Buildings still smelled musty Thursday.

Other schools had unique problems. Power lines were down at Reedy Creek Elementary. The air conditioning and phones at Liberty High, which served as a shelter, didn’t work. Cypress Elementary fought mildew. Lakeview Elementary lost soffits and gutters. The side wall of Kissimmee Elementary’s storage shed is gone, covered by a massive white tarp.

Local private contractors stepped up to help, and Yeates said the district hopes to receive FEMA funding to pay for the extra cleanup, but like fixing the school calendar to make up for these lost days, they’ll worry about it later, after students are back in class.

By then all of this should be a memory, said Mill Creek Elementary Principal Susan Cavinee, who chipped in with staff starting Tuesday to clear limbs, rake leaves and handle a couple of small roof leaks.

“We can’t wait for Monday,” she said. “When the kids come in, it’s going to be like the storm didn’t happen.”