This story has been updated, Oct. 28
By Peter Vankevich
While much of Ocracoke has returned to a new “normal” in these challenging times, Ocracoke School still has a way to go.
With a great deal of initial reluctance, Ocracoke School eventually joined about 35 other buildings in Ocracoke village that were torn down due to historic flooding caused by Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 6, 2019.
A large turnout by the community Friday afternoon (Oct. 22) watched Hyde County Superintendent of School Steve Basnight and Ocracoke School Principal Leslie Cole enthusiastically welcome islanders and officials and hand out Dolphin blue-colored shovels to get the ground-breaking ceremony underway.
In an interview on WOVV’s “What’s Happening on Ocracoke,” that morning, Basnight went into detail on how initially the plan was to repair only the damage to the school, mitigate the mold, pass all safety inspections and reopen.
But while evaluating the damage, structural engineers determined that the underlying infrastructure was so badly damaged there was no choice but to tear down the school that opened in 1971 and build a new school.
The adjacent, much newer elementary class building did pass safety inspections and after some repairs reopened from the second floor upwards 22 days after Dorian. The damaged first floor took much longer to repair.
Basnight provided a timeline on what can be expected with an expected school reopening target date of April 11, 2023.
“We will soon begin by placing a metal chain-ling fence will surround the campus and will, unfortunately, block the shortcut between School Road and Back Road during the construction,” he said. “It’s unfortunate but necessary to keep people safe.”
After bulldozers smooth out foundation sand, it will get noisy for a while.
“We’ll start putting down 300-plus pilings that the structure will settle on” he said. After that, building will begin.
Despite not having a real gym the last two years, the school has had a successful sports season with Dolphin teams competing against rival schools in cross county, soccer and volleyball.
After a two-year absence of home basketball games, the school gym with its fan bleachers will be ready to start the basketball season this December. WOVV plans to broadcast these games, including online.
Since the storm surge, Ocracoke School has been challenged, like no others, to fulfill its mission. With no schoolrooms available, Basnight and school principal Leslie Cole scrambled to get the students back to learning.
One of the heroes, was the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT). Located in the old Coast Guard building, near the big ferry docks on Silver Lake harbor. The extensively renovated building with conference rooms was suitable for holding classes for the middle and high school classes.
It came with sacrifice for NCCAT when its executive director, Dr. Brock Womble, and its board of directors agreed to cancel the weekly teacher training sessions to help the school.
The industrial arts class area on the first floor of the former Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department building was severely damaged by 48 inches of flood water. Almost all the equipment, such as the 3-D printer and table saws were ruined and needed to be replaced. It reopened for this academic year.
Securing funding for a new school was a time-consuming process and Basnight noted how many helped including Gov. Roy Cooper, the General Assembly, especially Ocracoke’s state Rep. Bobby Hanig (R-Currituck), the Department of Public Instruction, Hyde County government, its Board of Education and Ocracoke’s county commissioners, former Tom Pahl and current Randal Mathews.
Ben Cahoon of Cahoon and Kasten Architects, of Nags Head, is the architect. A.R. Chassen Construction will do the building. Tommy Burrus will serve as the owner representative.