More than 900 Wacoochee Junior High School students reported to Smiths Station High School Monday morning, something they’ll have to get used to until their tornado-ravaged school is repaired.
Wacoochee Principal Rick Harris said Monday there was no word on when students could return, but teachers would be allowed to retrieve needed materials from their classrooms.
“Our school made out really well,” Harris said. “The major part right now will be assessing the damage to the roof. Unfortunately, with the weather yesterday they couldn’t get on the roof to assess the damage.
“The major hit was to the lunchroom, where the heating and air units were ripped off.”
Lee County Schools Superintendent Stephen Nowlin said there was extensive water damage to the cafeteria and three classrooms.
But school maintenance personnel worked through the weekend to clean the school and restore the heating and air conditioning.
Parent Brandi Smith arrived at Smiths Station High with her son at 9:30 a.m. Monday. She was trying to figure out how things were going to work when 910 junior high students were added to a campus already occupied by 1,800 high school students.
“I can’t imagine more traffic on this street in the morning,” Smith said. In addition to the high school traffic, Smiths Station Intermediate School is across the street.
To accommodate the extra traffic and people, Wacoochee students will begin school later than high school students and leave earlier.
Buses will arrive later in the morning and leave earlier in the afternoon as well.
Harris said parents should be aware that their children would arrive home about 30 minutes earlier than usual.
Carter Brown, a seventh-grader at Wacoochee, said he and his friends learned a lesson after secretly wishing Friday they could be out of school, while they waited silently in the hall during the tornado warning.
“We didn’t think about how much damage could be done,” Carter said. “Tornadoes never hit the school, so we were kind of looking at the drill Friday as a joke.”
Classmate Lyndsey Vaughan, also a seventh-grader, said seeing the school made her sad. “I was so shocked. You don’t think about that type of thing happening,” Lyndsey said. “I didn’t know what we were going to do for school. I was worried about that.”
Most of Wacoochee’s students will attend classes in 25 portable classrooms, while others will be taught in the library and the auditorium.
Smiths Station High School Assistant Principal Joaquin Richards said although the school is already crowded, they were able to accommodate the students temporarily.
“It disrupts us minimally,” said Richards, who was Wacoochee’s principal last year. “We don’t have room for another thousand students by any means, but we’ve got to do it. We can teach them, but it’s certainly going to be a challenge.”