GREENSBORO — It wasn’t utter destruction. But it was bad enough.
A tornado that hit Greensboro on a Sunday in April last year spiraled through three elementary schools in its path, damaging the buildings and permanently displacing the students.
School leaders stayed tight-lipped about the extent of the damage during almost a year of negotiating with their insurance company, Travelers Insurance. Late Thursday, the district announced it had received a $10.1 million settlement.
Chief Operating Officer Scott McCully on Friday shared some new details about that damage as well as key new information about what’s next for the elementary schools — Hampton, Peeler Open and Erwin Montessori.
Hampton was the worst hit of the three schools, he said.
The tornado dealt extensive damage to the roof, McCully said. He remembers standing in the school’s cafeteria after the storm and seeing blue sky when he looked up.
It tore apart mobile classrooms on the grounds and destroyed the main components of the school’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.
At Erwin, the tornado ripped out a roof-top AC unit, twisting the metal unit and tearing a gaping hole in the roof that allowed rain to soak the spaces below. Gas lines and other utilities on top of the building also took a hit.
Peeler also suffered roof damage, with two or three roof-top AC units taken out, McCully said. Water caused significant damage to two or three classrooms there, he said.
Extensive roof damage leading to water damage was a common theme at all three schools. In places, ceiling tiles got soaked, and electric components were damaged. Fire protection and security systems in all the schools saw damage. Many classroom contents were damaged or destroyed.
District officials said the buildings weren’t in great shape before the tornado. The district doesn’t want to pump money into tornado-damaged buildings only to have to soon replace them for other reasons.
McCully said he thinks it is unlikely the district will renovate and reopen Erwin, given the building’s condition, though they are still undecided about what to do with the school.
Instead, he suspects they will pick a different solution: Keep Erwin at Alamance Elementary long term, move it somewhere else in the district, or build a new Erwin.
He reaffirmed that the district intends to keep the Montessori magnet, given the demand for the program. Erwin has been co-located at Alamance Elementary since last spring and it is set to stay there next school year.
The Guilford County Board of Education voted earlier this month to close Hampton, which has been co-located with Reedy Fork Elementary.
Superintendent Sharon Contreras has proposed that a new “Hampton-Peeler” Elementary School be built on the site of the current, empty Peeler building.
There’s one part of the Peeler building that’s not as old as the rest, McCully said, so it’s possible that could be incorporated into a new school. Otherwise, it would be all new construction, and house students from both the Peeler and Hampton attendance zones. The two schools are close to each other.
School district administrators now are working on a new “Master Plan” proposal they hope will help guide school construction projects over the next five to 10 years. They are looking at bringing in some outside help with it.
It will be based on information from the facilities study completed by consultants for the district and county that was released earlier this year. However, it also will have some key differences, and different recommendations, stemming from some concerns Contreras has over how the study handled areas such as attendance zone boundaries, elementary school sizes and magnet programs.
They expect to begin sharing that Master Plan proposal this fall, McCully said. It would include what projects are recommended at schools and when work would take place.
Officials hope to pay for the projects through Guilford County voters approving a school bond referendum in fall 2020. McCully estimated it could be several years before a new Hampton-Peeler was completed.
As far as the insurance money, about $4 million will go to reimburse what the district has already spent on tornado response and recovery. The remaining $6 million is roughly enough to cover design costs for a new Hampton-Peeler, McCully said, so that’s what they are proposing to do with it.
McCully said he’s glad to move from the negotiating over insurance stage to the planning and sharing information stage. Given the state of the buildings before the tornado, the district is pleased with the settlement they got, he said.
“This is actually quite a relief,” he said.