LUMBERTON — Superintendent Tommy Lowry doesn’t believe the system’s central office, flooded by Hurricane Matthew, can be occupied again, but as of now no decision has been made on whether there will be efforts to rehabilitate it.
“This is not a facility we need to replace. It is completely destroyed because of the level of water that flooded it,” Lowry said this week. “Of course, that is only my opinion. It is the school board that will have to make the decision.”
The central office, which is just west of Exit 17 on Interstate 95, was swamped by the nearby Lumber River when Matthew dumped as much as a foot to 18 inches of rain on an already saturated Robeson County. Students in the Public Schools of Robeson County missed three weeks of classes, and the Board of Education has been meeting at COMtech.
“We lost everything in that building,” he said. “There was five and a half feet of water in there that stayed for over a week before it was all out.”
Despite the damage, the buildings have not been condemned.
“We lost everything from equipment and school supplies, to tools and 96 vehicles from our maintenance fleet and drivers education cars,” Lowry said. “We lost all of our printing equipment; all of our Child Nutrition building, including two walk-in freezers and a dry foods truck and freezer truck. The list just goes on and on.”
Among the 96 vehicles lost were “three to five” drivers education cars, none of which have yet been replaced, Lowry said. The program is continuing with other vehicles. The maintenance vehicles have also not been replaced and maintenance employees are now doubling up in other district vehicles or using their own personal vehicles.
According to Lowry, there is no way to immediately put a monetary value on the work needed at the central office alone or in the school district as a whole.
“I have not even a clue of value,” he said. “For the whole district you are talking a loss of millions, no not millions, probably a billion dollars when you consider the cost of restoring buildings and replacing all equipment and supplies.”
Lowry said that on Monday county school officials had their first meeting with FEMA representatives to begin what he said is going to be a long recovery process. No decision can be made on what to do with such buildings as the central office until FEMA determines how much financial assistance it can provide, he said.
“Until FEMA says what it can do for us there is no use of addressing what will be done with the central office building,” Lowry said. “What we do will depend on what we can get from FEMA and our insurance.”
The ultimate decision will be made by the Board of Education.
“I don’t know what the plans are. We haven’t discussed it,” board member Dwayne Smith said Tuesday. “But you can’t rebuild on something that has been damaged like that. It’s just not possible.”
Board member Mike Smith agrees.
“I would hope we don’t rebuild in a flood plain,” he said. “I would hope that if we get enough money from FEMA, the governor, whomever, that we take advantage of the situation and not rebuild in a flood plain. That would make no sense.”
Lowry said that currently the school system is operating with money available in its regular fiscal year budget.
“We have received no insurance money at all yet,” he said. “Different counties, businesses and organizations in our county are helping us with the supplies we need.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.