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Patched-up schools to open after flooding in Minot

By James Macpherson

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 5 2011 12:50 p.m. MDT

In this Aug. 25, 2011 photo, school superintendent of Minot, N.D., Mark Vollmer inspects a flood-damaged school in Minot, N.D. Minot schools open their doors on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011, a week behind schedule after the worst flooding in the city's history. The Souris River waters that pushed 11,000 people from their homes and damaged hundreds of businesses also took a heavy toll on schools in the state's fourth-largest city. Vollmer said the start of school will be a relief to students whose lives remain chaotic more than two months after the flooding hit.

James MacPherson, Associated Press

MINOT, N.D. — Mark Vollmer is stepping into a mess in his first year as superintendent of public schools in Minot, N.D.

Minot schools open their doors on Tuesday, a week behind schedule after the worst flooding in the city's history.

The Souris (SUR'-ihs) River waters that pushed 11,000 people from their homes and damaged hundreds of businesses also took a heavy toll on schools. Three of six damaged schools could be beyond saving.

Nearly 20 percent of the district's 7,000 students will attend classes in replacement classrooms set up around town.

Vollmer says the start of school will be a relief to students whose lives remain chaotic more than two months after the flooding hit.

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In his first year as superintendent of Minot's public schools, Mark Vollmer is stepping into a mess: Record flooding wrecked six of his schools, forcing the district to delay the start of the year and many of his students and teachers haven't yet returned to their homes.

Vollmer, who spent the past six years as the North Dakota district's high school principal, says he doesn't have time to be overwhelmed.

"No one is spending any time here having a pity party," he said. "We're digging in and taking care of business. We've got to."

Minot schools open their doors on Tuesday, a week behind schedule after the worst flooding in the city's history. The Souris River waters that pushed 11,000 people from their homes and damaged hundreds of businesses also took a heavy toll on schools. Three of six damaged schools could be beyond saving.

Nearly 20 percent of the district's 7,000 students will attend classes in replacement classrooms set up in churches, the city auditorium and dozens of portable trailer-like buildings scattered around town, an arrangement that may last two or three years. Yet there are positives: Class sizes and staff sizes will remain largely the same. And Vollmer, 45, said the start of school will be a relief to students whose lives remain chaotic more than two months after the flooding hit.

"They will be able to get back in the groove of hanging out with friends and learning," said Vollmer.

Summer vacation this year was not much of a vacation.

"There was no state fair. No zoo. The parks were closed. There was no baseball in town this summer," Vollmer said. "Activities and fun were limited for kids. We want to make sure school gets them back into as normal a pattern as possible."

One-fourth of the district's staff and students were chased from their homes by the flooding this summer, he said. Many families have moved in with friends or relatives, or in portable housing provided by the federal government. A 4-mile swath through town that took the brunt of the flooding is littered with derelict houses and debris as residents weigh whether to rebuild or walk away from their homes.

Minot was the hardest-hit area in spring and summer flooding that will cost an estimated $1 billion statewide. The federal government will cover most of that, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already doled out more than $300 million in individual help and public infrastructure repairs, mostly in Minot. A community fund set up for the Minot area has raised more than $3 million so far and got another bump over Labor Day weekend from a benefit concert featuring the Black Eyed Peas.

Since waters receded a few weeks ago, workers have mucked out mud and gutted the hardest-hit schools: Ramstad Middle School and Longfellow and Lincoln elementaries. Workers in respirators, hard hats and white coveralls continue to clean the affected buildings, which also have suffered structural damage and mold.

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