WEBBERS FALLS — Kindergarten teacher Lori Menie said she cried when she saw her classroom as just a shell during the summer. It had been mucked out and gutted. Before that, though, she had to see what could be saved.
“It was sad,” Menie said. “When you come in and it was all slick and slippery, it was sad.”
She was able to save some books and supplies on the high shelves along a row of cupboards. Some were part of a set, she said, and the other parts of those sets were on the lower shelves that had been under water.
But by Monday morning, her classroom was clean and nearly complete; a few odds and ends remained.
It was Menie’s first day to teach in her classroom since the May flood. Monday was the first day of classes for Webbers Falls Public Schools.
“I don’t have a board to write on, but we’ll make do,” Menie said. “I’ll write on the tables.”
She said she would put paper over her tables before writing on them.
The school had 290 students at the end of last school year. This year, as of Monday, 306 students were pre-enrolled, said Lisa Ward, high school principal. Parents were still enrolling children Monday morning.
Some renovation work will continue around the campus, but Ward said the main school building was ready for learning. The school day will start at 8:20 a.m. weekdays this year. In previous years, it started at 8:45 a.m.; Ward said the earlier start time should make up for lost days of instruction.
School officials twice delayed the school’s first day. They first pushed the start date back to Sept. 3. As that deadline approached, school officials pushed it back a little further, until Monday. From early June and up to Monday, school officials essentially had three months to build a school.
About 80% of the town was affected by the May flood. Floodwater — between 6 inches and 2 feet — got into homes, the police station, the schools, businesses and the First Baptist Church.
The Arkansas River at Muskogee, which is upstream from Webbers Falls, rose to about 45 feet from May 24 to May 31 before water began to significantly recede. The flood stage there is 28 feet. The river was at roughly 46 feet for three days, May 25-27.
Metal rusted. Textbooks, wooden floors and doors that got soaked were thrown out. Heating and air conditioning units had to be replaced and the school kitchen rebuilt.
“Oh, my God, it’s completely changed!” a middle-school student said, walking in for his first day.
School officials and volunteers have made trips to Krebs, Haileyville, Muskogee and Tulsa to pick up donated supplies. Teachers from Broken Arrow to Weatherford — across the state in western Oklahoma — boxed up what they could for Webbers Falls teachers.
Back in Menie’s classroom, there were some small infrastructure changes during the renovation that, though unexpected, would benefit her kindergarteners. Menie has new cupboards and shelves in her classroom.
Prior to the flood, those cupboards were built high toward the ceiling, so some of her students would get on their tip toes to reach them and others might have to ask for help.
As her students arrived Monday morning, Menie walked them to their cupboards, labeled with their names. As class began, Menie directed her students to a colorful rug in the middle of her classroom.
“Let’s all sit down,” she told the class. “Let’s spread out a little because we got two more friends we got to fit in.”