Tour of Munger Hill school shows damage, school spirit
Date: 6/14/2011June 15, 2011
By Debbie Gardner
WESTFIELD The tornado tore back the roof of the kindergarten classrooms at Munger Hill Elementary School at 4:16 p.m. on June 1.
"It knocked the clock off the wall. We found it and saved it," Mayor Daniel Knapik told Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) Chairman and State Treasurer Steven Grossman, Executive Director Katherine Craven and other members of the MSBA Board of Directors as they toured the school on June 8. "If it had [hit] one hour earlier, we would have had 400 kids here [at the school]."
If the tornado had hit one hour later, Knapik said, the streets surrounding the school most of which suffered heavy tree damage from the strong winds of what he said has been classified as an eF0 tornado when it began in Westfield would have been crowded with people returning home from work.
Knapik said a total of 100 homes in Westfield were damaged three badly enough to be a total loss by the tornado, which he had been told originated in the nearby Forest Glen section of the city.
The hilly terrain of the area, Knapik said, prevented the tornado from developing the destructive velocity witnessed when it hit Springfield.
The winds were strong enough, however, to badly damage the 20-year-old membrane-style roof of the school.
"We collected [sections of the membrane] from the trees, and metal from people's pools," after the storm, Knapik said.
He added that the school's original roofers were contacted immediately and they made temporary repairs so school could reopen.
Inside the three affected classrooms, board members saw torn ceiling tiles, twisted supports and wires hanging in a patchwork from the ceilings. All of the furniture had been removed, as well as the carpets covering the floors. However, the gaily-colored alphabet letter blocks and other kindergarten-appropriate wall decorations appeared untouched.
Knapik said school custodians had most of the damage cleaned up, repaired or secured by the afternoon of June 3, and he made the call to reopen school at Munger Hill on June 6.
"Most of the students are from the neighborhood and had witnessed the storm," Knapik said. "It was good to see them back here."
Knapik also acknowledged the quick actions and heroism of the school's custodial staff Jose Nuve and Russ Miller who were on duty that afternoon, and Ken Newell who returned to the building immediately following the storm with making sure individuals still on the school grounds were safe during and after the storm.
He said the men pushed people away from the windows during the hit, and after evacuating the building, went back into the damaged part to ensure there was no one left inside.
"They went in with no thought of themselves," Westfield Public Schools Director of Operations, Maintenance and Food Services Frank Maher Jr. told Reminder Publications
Knapik said the men also "stayed overnight in the building because it was unsecured and started working on repairs immediately the next morning."
Regarding the roof damage, Knapik asked MSBA board members which approach a more complete repair or replacement was, in their opinion, the best option for the school. The consensus from the board was that a new roof would be the best option for the school.
An MSBA official on the tour said, to expedite the repair application, it might be possible to shift the recently initiated bid process for the roof at the Westfield Vocational High School to the Munger Hill Elementary School roof.
Knapik said as the city was in the process of preparing to bond for $20 million for repairs to several other schools in the district, it made sense to increase the amount to include monies to cover the repairs to Munger Hill and "go out for all of it at one time." Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com