A year after Hurricane Matthew’s flooding inundated it, a month after getting the green light to use FEMA funds to repair it, the building on NC 11 South that houses LCPS’s school bus garage and the offices of its transportation and environmental departments is getting an overhaul that will probably take until year’s end to complete.
“It’s going to take some time,” Anthony Mitchell, the district’s transportation director, said. “We may move back in in stages. I’m anticipating some of the offices getting completed sooner than that, but we may have to do the garage during Christmas break.”
Since the October 2016 flood pumped three feet of water into the building, Mitchell and his office staff have worked out of a room at Teacher’s Memorial, which officially closed as a staff training site and pre-K center June 30. The department’s mechanics have continued to work in the garage space at the NC 11 site, because of the impossibility of removing lifts and other necessary equipment.
“It’s been kind of tough, especially the administrative part, not being there with the guys, having to shuffle back and forth with the paperwork,” Mitchell said. “Every morning, I have to go over to Teachers Memorial to answer phones and then go to the garage and talk to the mechanics.”
Damage from the flood was estimated at $340,000. Flood insurance the state requires LCPS to carry on the bus garage includes a $1 million deductible. After months of discussion, FEMA agreed to pay $114,000 toward repairs. In September, the Lenoir County Board of Education approved a contract with Fred Jones Construction for work totaling $146,000.
The costs to LCPS from the flood would have been significant greater had not Mitchell and his staff made preparations as the hurricane approached – a lesson learned when Hurricane Floyd brought flooding 18 years ago.
“We removed all the garage equipment, plus all the vehicles,” Mitchell remembered. “Because of Floyd, I made the decision to evacuate as much as we could. If we hadn’t, it would have been devastating to us.”
As it was, all buses had been inspected, determined to be safe and were ready to roll as soon as roads cleared enough to resume school.
Because relocating the bus garage and offices to another, higher location is financially prohibitive, LCPS is taking steps to reduce damage due to weather events like Matthew or Hurricane Floyd before it.
“With funding provided by FEMA the garage will return to its original form with a few modifications including tile flooring where there was carpet and sheetrock where there were wood panels, and the media and technological equipment will be raised to levels above recent flood stages. Windows will be replaced, and new furniture will be installed,” said Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Harvey II, who oversees transportation and environment. “We are extremely excited to know that our bus garage is on a path to regain a sense of normalcy.
“I would like to personally thank all of our employees at the bus garage for their hard work and dedicated service to our district and to our students,” Harvey said. “Many have persevered in less than desirable working conditions, with several completely displaced for a full calendar year, and now their patience is paying off.”
Rehabbing the floor of the garage area won’t likely get underway before district employees leave for Christmas break on Dec. 21, since the work would essentially close that area. But seeing walls going up and sheetrock going into place now buoys Mitchell’s spirits.
“You know what you feel like when you’re away from home and living in a motel?” he said. “That’s how it feels. We’ll be glad to get back home and get in our own bed.”