The pipe burst from the water main outside of Edgewood Highland Elementary School not only forced an emergency evacuation from the building, but it also caused the school to be closed indefinitely.
At one point, there was four feet of water in the building, completely destroying two classrooms on the lower level.
District administrators and the school principal, Marlene Gamba, worked diligently to secure a temporary building close to Edgewood as soon as possible.
Mayor Allan Fung offered his support to the district and the school community.
“I have been in constant contact with the school administration and did see the damage,” Fung said. “Since this event, numerous city departments have worked together to ensure our children are safe, including our police and fire departments, our building official, fire inspectors and building maintenance. The collaboration includes moving students to the temporary school, directing traffic and managing pickup and drop off, preparing that building and even clearing snow.”
“We’ve also gotten tremendous support from the Norwood school neighbors including nearby businesses,” Fung continued. “For example, CVS has graciously given us a number of parking spaces to use while we go through this temporary relocation. We also need to thank the affected families for their patience and understanding. The city administration knows that this has been disruptive and challenging and we’re working with the school district to return to normalcy as soon as possible.”
The plan, already underway, is to utilize the former Norwood Avenue Elementary School. It is only 0.4 miles away, takes one minute to drive to from Edgewood Highland, and will only cost an extra four cents in gasoline.
A special meeting for parents, guardians and students was held at Park View Middle School on Wednesday, Jan. 10.
Prior to the meeting, Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse published a Q&A of sorts on the CPSED.NET web site, addressing issues such as bussing, crossing guards, lunches, special education needs and school hours.
She said that, for the time being, parents would not be able to see the classrooms until the teachers had a chance to settle in.
Students did not need to bring in any extra special or new supplies. The district is providing all new materials for the needed classrooms. The students in classrooms that were not damaged had their supplies and desks shrink-wrapped and delivered straight to Norwood Avenue.
Nota-Masse started her remarks during the meeting by acknowledging all the Edgewood staff and how well they handled the stressful nature of the situation.
“I am not underestimating when I tell you those teachers in the lower level saved lives that day,” she said. “The velocity and sheer amount of water was devastating. It actually took a metal fire door right off it’s hinges.”
The emergency protocol that is in place was followed to the letter. Students were evacuated and taken to Park View Middle School.
Nota-Masse also addressed the issue of some parents feeling they were not notified in a timely manner.
“Our main priority is the immediate safety of our children. Getting those 231 students out of harm’s way and here was our first goal,” she said.
She reassured the parents that Norwood Avenue has been in use, and the children are not going into an empty, dark and cold building.
In discussing the Edgewood building itself, she spoke honestly about the damage sustained.
“The lower level took a huge, devastating hit,” she said. “The preschool classroom, and the room used by the Northern RI Collaborative for our hearing impaired students were completely destroyed. The water was so significant, that those two rooms need to be gutted.”
Those two programs will not be returning for the rest of the school year.
“I can’t even describe what I saw. Anything that was four feet or lower was covered in silt, dirt. Tables, chairs, desks, any salvageable materials all need to be disinfected, sanitized and cleaned before we allow your children to reenter that classroom,” she said.
“I will be honest – it is not perfect, but it is going to work for the time we need. Everything will be the same for as much as possible. Bussing will be the same, start and end time will be the same, teachers, support staff will all be the same, I assure you,” Nota-Masse continued.
Principal Gamba started off thanking all the administrators, teachers and staff for all their support.
“The fact that we will be up and running tomorrow is quite a feat,” she said. “It is a testimony to the entire Cranston school community and our Edgewood Highland population.”
She stated how touched she has been by everyone who has reached out and offered help, supplies and support.
“As strange as it sounds, it was a blessing that when the water came in, it was a thirty-five degree day, so nothing froze. Trying to find any silver lining we can in this situation,” she said.
Gamba stressed the importance of the schools having current email addresses for all families and how easy it has been to communicate with all.
Gamba explained to the audience how the day will go, what doors the students will use, how the classrooms will be laid out inside the building, as well as drop-off and dismissal procedures.
“As much as we hate these circumstances, it is what it is, and we are dealing with them. Our evacuation drill took 10 minutes to implement. Once we shut down the power, it is our priority to get the students to safety. This is proof that safety drills work, and we have them for a reason,” she said.
Gamba and Nota-Masse fielded questions from parents ranging from waivers from RIDE about missed days, to math club, to how the YMCA program will be continuing to the conditions of the Norwood building.
In a phone call from the superintendent on Thursday morning, Gamba was relieved and happy to report that the first day at Norwood went smoothly and there were no problems.
The Edgewood PTO offered their comments on the situation.
“We are all saddened by the unforeseen circumstances that have displaced the entire school and destroyed classrooms and personal belongings. We would like to thank the staff for acting quickly and getting the kids to safety,” reads a statement from the group. “As parents that is the most important thing to us. We are also grateful that the school district made Norwood Avenue available to us, since the kids get to stay together and it’s right around the corner.”
“The kids of Edgewood remained calm, listened, and followed procedures as they were taught. They are doing great adjusting to their temporary school. We could not be more proud of our students and staff at Edgewood Highland...We would also like to thank the parents and community for their patience, along with their many offers of help. In the next few weeks we will be planning a fun event for the kids as well as announcing our fundraising plans so that people can help support our school,” the statement continued.
Coleen Sivo, who has sons in grades one and four, got wonderful feedback from her children.
“The boys thought it was more fun, loved lunch and recess in the classroom,” she said.
Sivo’s children attend Liddle Tots for before/after school care, and their staff even commented on what a great job was done.
“At yesterday’s drop off and pick up, the police presence outside was so welcoming and helpful,” Sivo said. “The kids loved it. They were helping kids out of their cars, walking them to the door. Two officers came right to the van, said they would walk kids in. Usually, our staff has to walk kids in, but the police were interacting with them all. Liddle Tots said it was such a family friendly welcome. Gives you the ‘it takes a village’ feel.”
There is no guarantee as to when the move back will happen, but Nota-Masse is hoping to have everyone back where they belong after February break.