For news on Hurricane Dorian and more, go to the Ocracoke Observer home page.
By Peter Vankevich
Like most of the village, the record-setting storm surge from the passage of Hurricane Dorian just after dawn on Sept. 6 severely damaged Ocracoke School, effectively closing it.
School officials are optimistic classes can resume in other island locations in about two weeks.
“There was water and mud everywhere, from 10 to 12 inches in the school, to 40 inches in the shop class,” said Steve Basnight, Hyde County’s schools
superintendent. “The day after the storm, we were able to bring down two contractors and our maintenance director Paul O’Neal from Mattamuskeet, and by Sunday morning, we had hired a company to come in to initially do mold and muck mitigation.”
That included removing the standing water and mud, and mold had already begun to grow inside the building. A reading in one of the classrooms had a humidity of about 89 percent.
The school is one of the last in North Carolina that includes all grades from pre-K to senior class. Total enrollment this year is 174 students. The campus, at the end of School Road, stretches to Back Road, with an outdoor basketball court and playground. Along with the main building, there are separate buildings for the library and industrial arts classes on the first floor of the former building of the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department and a trailer for high school English that was destroyed.
The main building will require extensive repairs and there is a strong likelihood that the school building, save for a small section, will be closed the entire academic year.
So, dealing with school infrastructure repairs and, more importantly, getting the students back to class, is a two-fold challenge.
Basnight said he and Principal Leslie Cole immediately started looking at the options of reopening.
On Monday they visited island locations that did not receive water damage and which could possibly be used to hold classes.
Possible sites are the Child Care Center, the Sunday morning Bible classrooms and the fellowship hall in the Ocracoke Life Saving Church, two classrooms at the North Carolina Center for Advanced Teaching (NCCAT) and the open area of the WOVV studio on the second floor above the damaged shop class.
Other less appealing options include using the daily ferries to the mainland for classes and getting modular class-room units.
Although initially appealing, the drawback for modular classrooms is it would take between six weeks to three months for them to be delivered.
On Friday afternoon, Basnight was hopeful that since the second floor of the elementary classes was not flooded it would pass the air quality test and could be used. He later received the good news that they were safely accessible and could be used.
While he stressed that everything is still in play and subject to change, he laid out the possible class locations:
Pre-K, kindergarten and first grade: Ocracoke Child Care
Second through fifth grades: upstairs in the elementary section of the school
Middle and high school classes: to be determined but include NCCAT, the Life Saving Church and the open area of the WOVV studio.
Another challenge is that teachers, like students’ families, are working on their own damaged houses.
“We have teachers who have absolutely lost everything and that’s always in the forefront of our mind when we’re balancing that with the need to get back in school,” Basnight said.
To add to the crisis, much of the classroom materials throughout were destroyed and will have to reordered, and teachers will need time to analyze their class needs. The school library also suffered water damage and is currently closed.
Although the sports programs of the Ocracoke Dolphins and Lady Dolphins teams will be taking a major hit, Basnight is optimistic that the basketball program might still be held, albeit at a scaled-down version.
Any games would have to be away. With the amount of water the school gym received, he suspects the flooring will have to be replaced.
“Multiple schools have reached out inviting us to visit them to play a game on Friday night and a morning one on Saturday,” he said. “One school offered their facilities for us for practicing and it’s just been incredible the number of people that have asked, ‘How can we help?’ and ‘We can move our schedule around to make it more convenient for you.’”
Basnight was greatly appreciative of the support and advice he has received throughout the state, and especially from the school superintendents in the southeastern counties of Craven, Pamlico and Onslow because of what they went through last year with Hurricane Florence.
He has also received support from the Department of Public Instruction.
This story will be updated as the school works its way back reopening.
Editor’s note: Many people want to help Ocracoke post-Hurricane Dorian. The island appreciates that and will need much help in the months to come. In addition to other island groups and fundraising efforts, monetary donations are being accepted for Ocracoke School via Hyde County Schools, P.O. Box 217, Swan Quarter, NC 27885. Write in the memo line: Ocracoke School.
Ocracoke School PTA also is accepting donations: Ocracoke School PTA, P.O. Box 626, Ocracoke, NC 27960.