Kennedy High School prepares to have students in class for first time since March

Published: Jan. 10, 2021 at 10:56 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - About 10 months after students last attended class on campus, Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids is preparing to welcome them back to their classrooms on Jan. 19.

After learning moved remotely for the final quarter of the 2019-2020 school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kennedy staff looked forward to students and teachers returning in the fall, but extensive damage from the Aug. 10 derecho delayed that return until mid-January.

While all schools in the Cedar Rapids Community School District sustained derecho damage, Kennedy took on the worst of it and will be the final school in the district to welcome students back on campus.

“Knowing that we could get in in January was almost a relief because when I first saw the damage, we thought it would at least be a year before we were able to get this building back together,” Associate Principal Jessica Johnson said.

Johnson said the north part of the building, which includes the library, the auditorium on the same side of the school, and the gymnasium on the southwest side of the building took on the brunt of the damage.

Last week, Kennedy held its first basketball games in the renovated gym, where a new floor, bleachers, and roof were installed.

About 80% of the building’s roof had to be replaced, according to Johnson, a cost that made up much of the more than $11 million in derecho repairs overall at Kennedy. During a tour of the repairs last week, Johnson pointed out multiple areas around the building, including the gym, auditorium, black-box theater, and a science classroom, where the wind ripped off pieces of the roof and resulted in water pouring inside and seeping into the floor.

Kennedy Principal Jason Kline said more than 300 books in the library were soaked and ruined, and he described school staff throwing books into empty trash cans in the hopes of saving them from water damage. Every single salvaged book, along with each trophy in the school’s display cases, has been cleaned before students return, according to Kline.

When they saw the damage the August storm scarred into their school, with punishing winds of more than 100 miles per hour, Johnson and Kline said they initially did not realize the extent of it.

“It was just uncomfortable to be in — very, very humid, very wet,” Kline said, noting the subsequent power outage for several days after the storm created more issues in some parts of the school, including the indoor pool.

Kennedy staff said smaller projects, like painting, will be ongoing throughout the spring semester, while workers will not be able to tackle remaining exterior work until the summer.

“The hard thing right now is, we’re finding more damage as we move in because we haven’t had teachers in their classrooms,” Johnson said.

Over the next week-plus, teachers will be preparing their classrooms to welcome students back. During the tour, Johnson pointed out classrooms where tables had been swapped for desks to allow for social distancing, saying how not all teachers had a chance to adjust their classrooms to be COVID-safe before the derecho hit, so many of them are doing that now.

“We look forward to the day when we can have our pep assemblies and other things like that, but we’ll take it one step at a time,” Kline said.

“That’s why we’re here is for kids, and so to be able to have kids fill this building again is super exciting,” Johnson added.

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