LUMBERTON — As damage reports continue to come in and testing continues for mold and bacteria, the Public Schools of Robeson County does not have a firm date for students to return to class.
It appears that school will be closed next week as well, Superintendent Shanita Wooten said. The school board received an update on damages from Hurricane Florence in a special meeting Tuesday. On the same day, legislation was approved allowing the school systems affected by the storm to have up to 20 days of missed school days.
“Next week, we will be close to knowing when school can start,” Wooten said. “Testing for mold is the biggest holdup.
“Damage reports are still coming in and we are looking school by school.”
The schools have been closed to students since Sept. 12, and damage is significant at a number of schools, according according to Earney Hammonds, maintenance supervisor. Most of the damage is to roofs, which led to water and mold issues.
“The biggest problem is heat and humidity,” Hammonds said. “Unlike Matthew is it very warm and humid, which mold loves.
“We also have problems with sewage coming in with floodwater. We are doing swipe tests for E. coli.”
If mold or E. coli is detected, hazmat teams are engaged immediately, Hammonds said. Fifteen schools have had air quality tests performed so far.
“The water was full of sewage, you could smell it,” Hammonds said. “We are having to pump it out from under schools, too.”
Hammonds ticked off a partial list of damaged schools: Fairmont High School, Fairmont Middle School, Rosenwald Elementary, Long Branch Elementary, Knuckles Elementary, Parkton Elementary, Early College at Robeson Community College, Townsend Middle School, R.B. Dean Elementary and St. Pauls elementary and middle schools.
The Indian Education building in the old Pembroke High School lost a large part of its roof and had considerable damage to museum artifacts.
The new district central office building in Lumberton also was flooded, and Superintendent Wooten predicted it will be three or four weeks before it will be ready for staff members to occupy again. The bus garage also flooded and will need repairs.
“We have much better insurance this time,” Finance Director Erica Setzer said. “Our department is still located at UNC Pembroke, so there will be no problems with payroll.”
Some schools are dry and ready, but the schools likely will reopen together, Wooten said.
Board member Dwayne Smith asked about the schools that were used as shelters.
They were closed last Friday and are being cleaned and disinfected, Wooten said.
Board member Brenda Fairley-Ferebee asked about roads.
State Board of Transportation member Grady Hunt, who also is the board’s attorney, said there were six closed roads as of Tuesday. All roads will be ready by the end of the week, except N.C. 904, which could be closed through October.
Several board members were concerned that the public is not getting information about the challenges facing the schools.
“The public does not understand, and we need to tell them,” said Linda Emanuel, the newest member of the school board.
“I am getting so many questions,” Dwayne Smith said.
Hammonds said test reports should be in early next week.
“We’ll have a handle on each school next week,” he said. “Cleanup is going on all through the weekend.”
In other business, the board members agreed to request annexation of its new 24-acre athletic facility in Red Springs. The facility needs water and sewer service.
The deadline for applying for school fundraisers was pushed back to Oct. 31.
Tuesday’s meeting served as both the September and October meetings, board Chairman Mike Smith said. The next meeting will be as regularly scheduled in November.
Scott Bigelow can be reached by email at email@example.com.