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Tornado damage at Colfax schools could top $1 million

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  The roar of blowers and industrial-sized dehumidifiers accompanied the Colfax Board of Education as they toured tornado damage at the school buildings during a special emergency meeting July 1.

Damage from the June 27 tornado “is in the $1 million range and could be more,” said Bill Yingst, district administrator.

Footage from a security video shows a large tree next to the school building being destroyed, followed by a large gas grill tumbling along the sidewalk and covers from the HVAC units on the roof hurtling through the air.

When the two air vent covers were torn off, they left holes in the roof four feet by eight feet, and water poured in through the roof, Yingst explained to the school board.

As the air handler unit bounced along, it punctured holes in the roof, and there was standing water in sixth-grade hallway. Several sixth grade classrooms also had standing water, Yingst said.

The carpeting will have to be removed and replaced in four classrooms, and ceiling tiles will have to be replaced as well, he said.

Electronic equipment, such as the Promethean “Smart Boards,” also will have to be assessed for water damage and may need to be replaced, Yingst said.

Plywood and plastic has been installed above the sixth grade classrooms to seal up the roof for now, he said.

In addition to roof damage, several windows were shattered, including one in a classroom and one in the elementary school door facing west.

The tornado also pulled up the rubber membrane on the elementary gymnasium roof and then pulled the insulation into bunches under the membrane.

Rain was predicted for Colfax Saturday night, and in fact, several inches of rain did fall overnight.

To protect the elementary gym floor from further water damage, crews from a clean-up company retained by the school district’s insurance carrier put a tarp on the elementary gym roof.

Yingst said initially the idea was to weight down the tarp with tires.

Eventually crew members came up with the idea to use strips of lath and to screw the lath down onto the rubber membrane.

Unfortunately, by Sunday morning after several more inches of rain, the elementary gym floor was covered with water, Yingst said.

Five sections of roof will either have to be fully or partially replaced, he said.

The Colfax school district has “very good insurance” that includes full replacement value, has no caps or limits, and has a $5,000 deductible, Yingst said.

Athletic fields

Water damage and roof damage to the school buildings was not the only damage caused by the EF1 tornado.

Two equipment sheds northeast of the school building were completely demolished.

One shed was a 20-foot by 20-foot structure, and the other was a 60-foot by 80-foot structure.

The storage sheds held athletic equipment, school furniture, and school supplies.

Debris from the sheds and their contents was scattered over the baseball and softball fields, and to some extent, the practice field.

The debris included twisted sheet metal, screws, nails, shards of wood, and trusses with nails sticking out of them.

Fluorescent light bulbs stored in one of the sheds left glass scattered over an area of the athletic fields, and in that area, the sod will have to be dug out and replaced, and the road  in that spot also will have to be dug out and replaced, Yingst said.

School officials will sort through the football equipment to see what is salvageable, and since football practice will be starting in a month, whatever football equipment is needed will be ordered immediately, Yingst said.

The sooner the football equipment can be ordered, the better, because all schools across the country will be ordering football equipment now, he noted.

September 2

“The goal is to get back to normal by September 2, the first day of school,” Yingst said.

The safety of students and staff is the number one priority, he said.

Ken Bjork, school board member, wondered if Yingst was expecting additional “surprises” in the coming weeks of damage that has not yet shown up.

The clean-up company will be using thermal imaging cameras to look for water in the floors, ceilings and walls, Yingst said.

If it is not possible to completely dry the carpeting, then it is not worth keeping because of the potential for health problems associated with mold, he said.

For now, school district officials and insurance company representatives will continue to assess the damage. After the extent of the damage has been determined, the Colfax school district will begin seeking bids to repair what can be repaired and to replace what needs to be replaced, Yingst said.

The Colfax Board of Education’s special meeting on July 1 was strictly for informational purposes, and the school board took no formal action.

As per state law requiring that the news media be contacted and an agenda for an emergency meeting be posted at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting, Yingst telephoned the Colfax Messenger at about 3:45 p.m. on Monday and said he planned to post the meeting notices shortly thereafter for the emergency meeting Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.

Board of Education member Christie Hill listened in on the meeting by telephone. School board members Ken Neuburg and Mike Lee could not be at the meeting.

Board of Education president Joel Hilson and school board members Todd Kragness, Ken Bjork, and Jodi Kiekhafer were able to attend the special meeting.