GMG schools eyeing early March for full return to classrooms

The corner of a classroom at the GMG Secondary building in Garwin sits with standing water meeting the bottom of a bookshelf. The water damage came as a result of a water pipe breakage that occurred on the evening of Jan. 7. – Contributed photo

A month after a water pipe break caused major damage at the GMG Secondary school in Garwin, progress has remained steady toward a target of March 6 for all junior high and senior high students to return to 100 percent in-person learning.

On Jan. 7 Secondary Principal Jaimie Gargas and teacher Tiya Montano discovered a cascade of water coming down the hallway when they returned to the school that evening from a high school debate competition.

A pipe on the third story of the school’s north wing (a 1920 structure) ruptured, sending water down into the second floor which eventually leaked into the first floor.

In a report issued as part of a letter to GMG families recently, a total of eight classrooms and five office spaces took heavy water damage. The spaces directly affected by the water damage equal approximately 70 percent of the instructional spaces at GMG Secondary.

Since the second week of January, students at GMG Secondary have been attending classes under a hybrid learning plan that rotates their schedule in the building to every other day.

Water pools along an empty hallway at the GMG Secondary building in mid-January following a water pipe breakage that caused severe damage to eight classrooms and five office spaces through the north wing of the building. Approximately 70 percent of the learning spaces were affected by the water damage, however much of the extra-curricular areas like the gym were left untouched and have remained available for winter activities. – Contributed photo

Extra-curricular activities have been able to continue in the areas of the school not affected by the water damage and enough classroom space has remained available to allow at least 50 percent of classes to take place each day.

The plan was given emergency approval through the Iowa Department of Education and has been renewed on a weekly basis as needed.

Similar to the distance-learning protocols adopted for the COVID-19 pandemic, students were issued laptops to use for schoolwork at home as well as mobile internet hotspots for those without access to internet at home.

In the letter to parents, Gargas encouraged families to reach out for accommodations if students were in need of assistance or extra help on days that they were not scheduled to be in the building.

“We’ve been quite fortunate to have half of the building available for use-it honestly could’ve been much worse,” Gargas said in the letter. “Our sense of community has made this experience much easier to deal with, as has the ‘practice’ we had with COVID-19.”

Industrial dryers from ServiceMaster are set up along a hallway at GMG Secondary as work continues this winter to repair the extensive damage caused by a water pipe that broke on the third floor of the building’s north wing. District officials estimate the restoration work could be complete in time for classes to resume 100 percent in-person by March 6. – Contributed photo

School meal services have also been made available to all students regardless if they are scheduled to attend class in the building that day or not.

Assessment of the water damage by restoration and insurance professionals working with the district showed a number of items in the damaged wing that would need to be addressed.

Those included replacing flooring, cleaning carpeting, repairing and replacing drywall, replacing ceilings, mitigation for moisture and mold, replacing baseboard, painting in several rooms as well as testing and abatement of asbestos when needed.

The walkthrough report indicated asbestos abatement may not be covered by insurance though it’s not clear if any asbestos had been uncovered.

Work by restoration professionals has progressed relatively on schedule and Gargas said although the return target date of March 6 is subject to change, things are moving along in the right direction.