published Friday, April 29th, 2011

Schools scramble in storms’ wake


by Kelli Gauthier
Ringgold Middle School was severely damaged after numerous tornadoes touched down throughout the North Georgia and Chattanooga area.
Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Ringgold Middle School was severely damaged after numerous tornadoes touched down throughout the North Georgia and Chattanooga area. Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

SCHOOLS CLOSED TODAY

Bradley County

Catoosa County *

Cleveland City

Dade County

Hamilton County

  • District will be out of school all next week

RINGGOLD, Ga. — After she’d wiped away tears started by seeing pictures of her son’s destroyed middle school, Ringgold resident Kristy Heflin wanted answers.

“I’m very concerned about where my child is going to finish his school year at. Where will they go? When are we going to know?” she asked. “I know [school officials] have other things to take care of, but we’ve got kids who are needing an education, as well.”

After Wednesday’s tornadoes destroyed much of Ringgold Middle School, Mayor Joe Barger said it would be at least six months before students could return to the building. Catoosa County Schools has called off classes for next week.

Across the state line in Bradley County, Tenn., Blue Springs and Michigan Avenue elementary schools also were damaged significantly and will be closed for the rest of the school year, County Mayor Gary Davis said.

Davis said the county is weighing options on where to send students for the rest of the year, including possibly some Cleveland City schools.

In Catoosa County, schools Superintendent Denia Reese said Ringgold’s middle and high schools are “uninhabitable.”

The middle school is completely blocked by trees. The storms shattered an entire wing of the middle school, smashed windows in both buildings and destroyed most of the high school’s athletic facilities. The district’s central office — which lost part of its roof Wednesday — temporarily will relocate to Graysville Elementary.

Reese said she expects to announce Monday where students from those damaged schools will finish the year.

Catoosa County Commissioner Dewayne Hill said he didn’t see any way students would return to either the middle school or Ringgold High School before the end of the school year May 27. He said he wasn’t sure where the county would hold classes.

“They’ll just have to make do,” he said.

In other storm-damaged areas, several schools were being used Thursday as communication and triage centers.

Dade County schools are closed until further notice, Superintendent Patty Priest said, and the Red Cross is set up at the high school. None of the county’s schools has power and at least one was damaged severely, she said.

Dade Elementary was hit hardest, and Priest said officials will have to turn cafeterias, libraries and music rooms into makeshift classrooms to finish out the school year.

The gymnasium roof at Hamilton County’s Dalewood Elementary had major damage, said Superintendent Jim Scales, while Apison Elementary and East Hamilton Middle-High School are being used as triage and command centers. Many schools have large trees blocking driveways, Scales said, and 29 Hamilton schools are without power.

Staff writers Andy Johns, Beth Burger and Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this story.

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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