WEST ORANGE, NJ — The torrential rain that fell in New Jersey on Aug. 11 resulted in a flood in Kelly Elementary School, leaving about 3 inches of water in all but one of the school’s classrooms. Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky updated West Orange Board of Education members and the public about the progress of the cleanup at the Aug. 27 BOE meeting, saying the classrooms would be ready to welcome students on the first day of school on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
The water entered the school through its back entrances as the rain ran down the softball field and into the basement, according to Rutzky.
“If you’re looking at the softball field, there’s the steps and the ramp that go down that way,” Rutzky said. “That entire area was full of water. It was rushing out of the softball field and there was sand in the steps area.”
Rutzky said that, years ago, a trap was installed to prevent flooding and was fully operational during the storm. The problem was that the water ran in another direction and reached Kelly’s basement.
“What happened is on the other side is the courtyard area,” Rutzky said. “It was gushing in there, there are six steps and they were completely underwater. It went in through that door and got into the basement floor. The minimum amount of water was 3 inches in each classroom and in some areas there was more.”
The water was drained and the district hired a company to clean and sanitize the building and floors. Due to the sanitizing, Rutzky said that about 25 to 30 inches of drywall in each classroom had to be torn out. As of Aug. 27, the drywall had been replaced and repainted, and the baseboards and floors were to be finished the same week.
“We lost a lot of cabinets and we lost a lot of furniture that had been built into the walls for years,” Rutzky said. “We did find some mold behind there and that was one of the main reasons to cut out that drywall.”
An air-quality report is also in progress and will be ready to give to the building and district administrators by the first day of school. Business Administrator John Calavano said at the meeting that, when consulting with the district’s insurance company, the insurance agent agreed that the furniture and cabinets had to be replaced.
“He concurs with the water company that all the cabinets and walls had to be removed,” Calavano said. “Especially the cabinets — it just absorbed the water and blew it apart. There was no way we’d be able to keep any of that, and if we did the mold would just end up growing.”
Robert Csigi, director of buildings and grounds, said the flooding occurred because water entered the building in places that the district hadn’t expected it could.
“We put up a floodgate and that solved the problem until this rain,” Csigi said at the meeting. “It came in places we never expected it to come in, it’s a once-in-100-years flood so we’re doing what we need to do. New furniture that we get won’t be built into the wall, it will be on 4-inch risers so, if water does come in, we’ll be able to clean up and we won’t have the damage to the furniture again.”
Rutzky also said the district is not expecting flooding to be a problem at Kelly in the future, but other protective measures will be taken regardless.
“It rained very hard and went where it was uncontrollable,” he said. “The answer might be some additional drainage. It was one of those storms that we don’t get very often, but that’s something that we’re going to have to look at because of the slope of the blacktop.”
Photo by Amanda Valentovic