And then there was one.
The tiny Beach Haven School opened yesterday for the first time since Hurricane Sandy struck the Jersey Shore almost a year ago.
It was one of four badly damaged schools reopening this month, leaving only Long Beach Island Grade School in neighboring Ship Bottom as the only school still closed due to the storm – repairs to that school are scheduled to be completed by March.
In a state where about 325 schools were significantly damaged by the hurricane and 1,000 schools were left without power for extended periods last fall, reopening of the Beach Haven Schools was enough cause for celebration for Gov. Chris Christie to visit to mark the occasion — and for its new superintendent to breathe a big sigh of relief.
“The staff, the students, everyone came together,” said Superintendent Evamarie Raleigh, following the hour-long ceremony held in front of the brick circa-1912 school.
“The teachers were here every day this summer unpacking boxes,” she said. “They renovated all the classrooms, so we had to box up everything, and each teacher had 100 boxes to go through and start over.”
Like many of the hardest-hit schools, this K-6 school with just 78 students was inundated by two feet of water on the fateful day last October, leaving classrooms, offices and especially the gym badly damaged.
The students were moved to the Eagleswood school district for the rest of the year, while nearly $2 million in repairs were made to the school.
The most obvious damage and repairs were to floors and walls, but there were also a few less-visible quirks in the renovation process. For instance, the building’s original boiler was damaged but ultimately not replaced, as it was patched up and left in place so the building could be heated through the winter for the repairs.
“The problem is the winter was cold, and if we didn’t heat the building, the pipes would burst and it would have been worse,” said Raleigh, who started in July. “So they got it working, and once that happened, the insurance wouldn’t pay for its replacement.”
And even the professional drying of papers and other documents proved its own particular challenge, said the superintendent, who said it was an expensive process that was done well but maybe wasn’t completely necessary.
“They cleaned all of the documents, at a cost of $300,000 to the insurance company,” she said. “And of the 189 boxes (of documents that were cleaned), we probably kept about 15 of them. There were documents from the ‘60s, or documents that could have been shredded instead of cleaned. Some were just forms; they cleaned forms.”
A few problems remain, she said, including printers that still don’t work.
Nonetheless, kids yesterday frolicked in the playground and their parents milled around the front of the school for what was another milestone in the Jersey Shore’s — and the state’s — slow recovery from Sandy.
“It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment, if you think about everything we went through and all the damage that was done,” Christie said yesterday. “It’s something we should all be proud of.”
State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, also attending the event yesterday, said “This is what government is for.”
“It’s moments like this where a community needs leadership, it needs direction, and it needs rapid decision-making,” he said. “The fact that we are down to one school that is well on its way to completion is testament to the extraordinary work by an awful lot of people.”
The Christie administration put the price-tag of damage to schools statewide at about $40 million, not including transportation costs for an estimated 3,600 displaced students. The state provided some funding help, with the bulk coming from federal funds and insurance.
Christie yesterday said that he plans in coming weeks to announce additional funding to help make schools and other infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, better able to withstand future weather catastrophes.