Kennedy High School gym reopens after $1.5 million in repairs made from derecho damage

Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 10:31 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - With players spaced in a socially distanced bench on the sidelines and only two fans per athlete allowed in the stands, the first basketball game in Kennedy High School’s main gym in months looked different than any other game in that space before it.

But the players, families, and staff in the gym that night were simply glad to be there.

“I am so excited to be back in the gym,” said Connie Powell, whose daughter, Jacey, played in Kennedy’s girls’ JV game against Jefferson High School on Monday. “Any time you can be back to something that’s familiar, it helps you out.”

Not much has been familiar for Kennedy students over the last 10 months, as they haven’t been allowed in their classrooms on campus since March of 2020 when the pandemic moved learning online to close out the 2019-2020 school year. Then, days before the start of the 2020-2021 school year, the Aug. 10 derecho damaged every school in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, with Kennedy hit the hardest.

Repairs and renovations, estimated at more than $11 million for the entire school, have forced Kennedy students to learn remotely for the entire school year so far, with their return to campus scheduled for Jan. 19, according to Associate Principal and Activities Director Aaron Stecker.

Monday’s games were a precursor to that long-awaited return.

“Today is just a brighter light at the end of the tunnel that things will get back to normal eventually,” Stecker said.

The gym now has a new floor and roof, after the derecho tore a two-foot-by-two-foot hole in the old roof, causing water to pour inside and seep through the floor.

“You walked in the day after, it didn’t look that bad, but then it started to bow and bend as the boards soaked up water underneath, and so three or four days later, it was pretty warped,” Stecker said.

Kennedy’s gym also got a fresh coat of paint and new bleachers, a planned renovation that got pushed up because of the derecho damage.

While the repair work was being finished, the high school’s basketball teams played in the school’s smaller west gym and at Franklin and Harding middle schools.

Stecker said the gym’s repairs totaled to around $1.5 million, and the school only got the approval from renovation crews to use the space on Monday morning, several hours before the first game’s tipoff later that night.

“So it was a scramble today, but the scramble was worth it, watching our kids kind of walk in and look around and see the gym and see them practice in the gym this afternoon,” Stecker said.

While games might look different at Kennedy, in more ways than one, Stecker said that the familiar feeling of being home is what matters most.

“The kids come here, they practice, they play, they go home, and they’re isolated, and so that connection’s been gone, and I’m excited for that to come back,” Stecker said.

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