WADENA - Wadena-Deer Creek High School Principal Tyler Church challenged students, particularly seniors, to provide leadership for the challenge ahead.
"We need your help this year," more than ever before, Church said Thursday.
For the next two years, students are not expected to be in their familiar high school building. Church said from the example of others, the next two years may be the students' best and provide an opportunity to bring everyone together.
"We can get through this," Church said. "There is no doubt in my mind for the communities of Wadena, Deer Creek and Bluffton, it's going to happen."
Wadena-Deer Creek High School hosted an information rally for seventh- through 12th-grade students at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Memorial Auditorium. The pep band provided music. The goal of the rally was to answer questions students and their families had about the future of the school and the upcoming school year. Church said they also needed to hear public input and ideas.
Tyler Church, Wadena-Deer Creek High School principal, spoke to students and adults gathered Thursday at Memorial Auditorium in Wadena. Church answered questions and provided updates on the damage to the high school and plans for the fall.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Classes will begin again on Sept. 7. School officials are still working out plans with partners in the area for alternative classrooms after the June 17 tornado severely damaged the high school. But signs around the community point to the plan to forge ahead with the school year and all the programs the school offered.
Parents and students had many questions during the hour-long session. School officials said they don't have all the answers yet but want to hear from residents to make sure all questions are being asked.
"This storm has changed the face of Wadena," said Ann Pate, school board chairwoman. "We have to remember it has only been two weeks."
Plans are to have all the fall sports and extracurricular activities through a variety of venues, including the elementary school gym. Two tennis courts are available in Wadena and Church said they may need to work with New York Mills for practice time on neighboring courts. Winter sports will also proceed with the wrestlers making a new home in Deer Creek.
As forhockey, the girls are going to Long Prairie. More time is needed to decide where the boys will go, but boys hockey will continue this winter, Church said. Danceline will use the elementary school gym.
Virginia Dahlstrom, school superintendent, said engineers may have a final recommendation on the high school building's viability next week. Until then, it remains unknown whether portions of the high school may be saved or whether the building is a total loss.
Several homes in Wadena were reduced to rubble in the June 17 tornado. A crew was at work Thursday removing debris from what was once a home in a southwest neighborhood.Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
"We're going to have a school," Dahlstrom said. "Don't worry. We'll come through this."
A map of the school showed areas shaded in red for major damage, such as the district offices, the commons and the shop classrooms, along with areas of less damage. Church said there was damage throughout the school.
At the rally, students and parents asked questions about what was salvaged from the high school thus far, like marching band uniforms and instruments, football jerseys and equipment, school books and lunch.
The football equipment is in an area Church said they still hope to be able to access. The bigger unsolved issue for the football team is a lack of a locker facility. And one of the first practice tasks for the team may be removing thousands upon thousands of rocks from the field that were blown off the roof. The band uniforms are being dry-cleaned and instruments were salvaged but suffered some water damage.
As for lunch, the decision has yet to be made whether student would eat at M State or eat in shifts at the elementary school. A woman wondered about her graduating senior's transcripts. All safely stored in accessible computers, school officials reported.
Students wondered about the future of classes such as physical education courses. The school is still looking into a proper location for a weight room. But officials said the plan is to offer all the programs the school provided before the tornado struck while noting there is a lot to do before Sept. 7.
Band and choir trips are going forward as is the behind-the-wheel instruction, although the driving course may be delayed a couple weeks as they are seeking a vehicle.
Others wondered what the design for a new school may look like. And some expressed concerns about mixing of students at Deer Creek, which provides education for students who have struggled in the mainstream, or at the college with older students.
The district lost 17 buses to the tornado damage. Two may be fixed. But the district, with an aging fleet of buses, was looking at leasing in the future. Dahlstrom said the school district hopes federal money may be available to help with that cost because the older buses did not have a lot of insurance coverage.
With more use expected for the elementary school gym, the district is looking at putting in new bleachers.
The Wadena-Deer Creek School District serves the communities of Wadena, Deer Creek and Bluffton. Last week, the school district reported a partnership was in the making with the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Wadena and St. Ann's Catholic Church for the use of classrooms for the upcoming school year.
Grades 9-12 will have space at the college and have an area in the northeastern quadrant of the school with plenty of locker space. The Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School, which wasn't damaged in the storm, may take grades 7-8. Church said those grades could also go to Deer Creek. Preschool, kindergarten and first grade could be at St. Ann's School with additional temporary portable classrooms used there or - if Deer Creek is used - the preschool could use St. Ann's without the need for additional classroom space.
Classes are being set up on a seven-period day with the start time perhaps moved to 8:11 a.m. If the Deer Creek school is used, the start time may be 8:15 a.m. to 8:20 a.m.
At the college, parking is expected to be a big issue with college students paying for parking spots and a number of high school students regularly driving to school.
The tornado, described by the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D. as a multi-vortex tornado with multiple tornadic tubes pivoting around a common center, packed 170 mph winds, traveled 10 miles and was 1.1 miles wide at its peak. The tornado was rated by weather service as an EF4, the second-strongest rating of tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.