Almost 18 months after a water pipe burst at Ardmore Middle School and flooded more than half the building, principal Cindy Huddleston was able to tell the Ardmore City Schools Board of Education this month that the last of the tile has finally been replaced.
Insurance claims from the incident are more than $740,000, but recent interviews with Huddleston and maintenance director Chris Kennedy suggest damage could have been drastically worse if quick thinking staff members had not been there. In no uncertain terms, they both said who was responsible for preventing the worst from happening.
“The faculty and staff saved Ardmore Middle School,” said Huddleston.
May 4, 2018 was a professional development day for teachers and staff at Ardmore Middle School. While students were taking advantage of a long weekend just a few weeks before summer break, only faculty members were at school that Friday when the unthinkable happened.
Huddleston was meeting with her staff when a custodian beckoned her. She tried to put it off, but the custodian insisted. By the time she rounded the corner by the gym and was heading for the cafeteria, she knew why it could not wait. A water line had burst beneath a slab in the kitchen with enough force to knock a sink from the wall. Water steadily crept down the hallway toward the gym, library, music rooms, and computer room.
“A lot of our faculty just scattered throughout the building to do what needed to be done,” she said. Staff members tried desperately to save their school from thousands of gallons of water and mud until the leak could be turned off. Teachers and staff got books, computers, instruments, and anything else they could find off the ground.
Efforts were made to divert water outside the building and away from rooms with whatever could be found. As fate would have it, a special event the day before left a plethora of pool noodles on campus that were used to build makeshift dams. “They were splitting them and sliding them under doors,” Huddleston said. “I was amazed at how innovative our people were.”
She immediately started making phone calls, including one to her maintenance director. Once Kennedy arrived at the school, he was standing in ankle-deep water that covered over half the building. Maintenance crews tried to turn off the water, but the torrent persisted.
They discovered the problem was not the water main but rather a dedicated 6-inch water line that supplied the sprinkler system. “That valve...hadn’t been shut off since it was put in in 1997,” Kennedy said. “I had two guys turning on this thing, trying to get it to shut down.”
In just under 20 minutes, between 60 and 70,000 gallons of water had gushed from a pipe and flooded the school.
With the water finally turned off, Kennedy’s thoughts immediately turned to cleanup. “You have 16 hours to be able to call somebody and...start getting that building under control,” he said. Everything affected by water was immediately sectioned off, and his crews drilled holes into sheet rock to allow airflow, prevent mold, and prepare for restoration crews.
Regular air quality inspections began the next day. Along with repairing damaged parts of the building, Kennedy said that air quality was constantly checked since other parts of the building would still have to be used by nearly 700 students and staff members for the remainder of the school year. “The key is to have those things set up within 24 hours,” he said.
Kennedy and his wife ended up living on campus in a travel trailer for the next 11 days. Kennedy found himself responsible for directing his employees along with hired restoration crews, all while the school year wound down. “You’re running three shifts on your restoration people...you get people that are coming in from out of town,” he said. “Somebody has to be there.”
“That was a rough weekend,” Huddleston said as she remembered wondering how she would finish the school year. Various community groups and businesses banded together to provide space and activities around town for the remaining school days. Some students already had classes away from the building since 6th graders were taking part in an environmental camp off campus.
Even after the air quality reports allowed students to return to unaffected portions of the school, the cafeteria was completely unusable. Mercy Hospital provided some meals and students were bussed to elementary schools for others. “The community all pulled together to help us,” she said.
For the remaining days, including a few make-up days as a result of the flood, Huddleston said students took the entire situation in stride. “The kids were great...to them it was a big adventure,” she said.
With students out for the summer of 2018, repairs could begin in earnest. Kennedy said the initial leak was likely caused by rust damage. One silver lining of the flood was the ability for maintenance crews to inspect other water lines across campus. As a result, Kennedy said a water leak was discovered near the fieldhouse and immediately replaced.
Another major impact of the flood was on the gym floors. Smooth hardwood planks warped and bowed to create a landscape of wooden dunes that appeared nearly two feet high. An army of industrial fans were deployed to push dank air out of the gym with fresh air while restoration crews tore up damaged hardwood.
Water lines, valves, heaters, and sprinkler systems had to be repaired, replaced, and inspected. Tools and other equipment had to be brought in and other damaged or worn items were replaced. Kennedy praised Oklahoma School Insurance Group for their work with his crews during the repairs.
“Our insurance company gives some training to us, they’re also there for us for any questions we have,” he said.
The most expensive aspect of the $741,604.30 insurance claim was the initial water removal and cleanup. According to a breakdown of insurance claims provided by school officials, $433,937.47 was spent on dry out, with an additional $21,596.91 for build back repairs. More than half of the total claim was paid directly by insurance.
That same document shows $113,062 worth of damage was done to the gymnasium floor, which was the most expensive line item except for initial water removal and cleanup. Insurance claims were also filed for sprinkler repairs and tests, flooring, increased utility costs related to the flood, and labor costs.
Damaged furniture was inventoried, ruined carpet was removed, and classrooms were emptied and cleaned. Crews worked all summer to repair what they could. “Next thing you know, May is gone, June is already gone, July is upon us now,” Kennedy said, and tile still needed to be replaced.
The standing water damaged glue that held down tiles across the building. As repairs continued through the summer, a decision had to be made: replace only the damaged flooring alongside tile from the 1990s, or temporarily patch the damage until all the flooring could be replaced together.
Restoration crews cleaned what they could and school maintenance reused what they could, but Kennedy was still short about 14 floor tiles. Ultimately the decision was made to use some donated tile--albeit mismatched-- to patch the damage. Even though it was nowhere near the right color, even administrators could not turn down free tile knowing it was temporary.
As a result, enough money was saved to allow insurance and budgeted money to replace tile throughout the building last summer. With the completion of that work in recent weeks, the restoration of Ardmore Middle School has been completed.
Kennedy said he has learned from the flood, but more importantly gained more respect and appreciation for the teachers at Ardmore Middle School. “Our community knows what they did out there, but I wish everybody could have seen shoes off and pant legs rolled up, doing everything they can to save their school,” he said.
Huddleston scrolled through pictures on her phone from the day of the flood and smiled when she thought about the camaraderie of faculty and neighbors. “People really do pull together in a crisis and all differences are put aside,” she said. “What could have been a catastrophe turned out to be a blessing.”
As the 8th grade class finishes their last year at Ardmore Middle School and take their firsthand knowledge of the 2018 flood with them, incoming classes will have to rely on stories of the incident that transformed their school building.
They will also have the one part of original tiled floor that remains from the 2018 flood: the tiger’s head that greets everyone who enters through the front door.