Fresh Auditorium Final Piece in School's Post-Irene Puzzle
Alexander Hamilton School hardest hit after 2011 storm.
If you were a fan of the orchestrea pit in the Alexander Hamilton Elementary School auditorium, we have some bad news.
After Hurricane Irene caused the Mills Street school to become to worst damaged building in the Morris School District as a result of the storm, officials had some easy decisions to make.
There was furniture, flooring, books, heating units to replace. All of that was obvious and would be covered by insurance, about $400,000 worth.
But, then there was the auditorium, with its oft-maligned orchestra pit, a reminder of a bygone era when Alexander Hamilton—built in 1932—was a middle school and the pit actually got use. For the third-through-fifth grades now at the school, it was a potential accident waiting to happen.
And, as a result of the storm, "it was filled with water," Principal Josephine Noone said. "You could see the water filling up the orchestra pit."
The decision to overall the auditorium was pretty easy, too. But, it would take a little extra planning and a lot more time.
By Wednesday, the Alexander Hamilton auditorium was finally available to students, over a year after a storm so bad, a flopping fish was found on the premises.
"No one else can say they had a pickerel in their boiler room," Noone said of the damage to the school she has overseen for six years. "Almost everything was a total loss."
You would be hard-pressed to identify the damage caused by Irene throughout the school today. Most replacements and repairs were done throughout the first couple months last fall, some into January 2012.
But, the auditorium would need to wait. While $40,000 of the insurance money would have covered basic repairs to the auditorium, including rug and stage replacement, much more was needed for a full overhaul.
"We budgeted an additional $300,000," said Business Administrator Chris Kelly. That, she said, would include filling in the underutilized orchestra and a host of other improvements. But, "no work could begin until it was voter approved," she said.
That approval came when voters passed the schools budget last April.
Much of the cost of repairs came from filling the orchestra pit. Kelly said a "concrete-like substance" was pumped into the hole, with concrete filling in the remaining gaps. A collapsible, removable stage has replaced the old stage, an Americans with Disabilities Act chair lift is now installed and a faux-wood floor has replaced a dull gray frayed carpet that had seen better days.
Kelly said the auditorium today is much more of a "multi-purpose room," which could be seen in the rows of tables set up this week for students to eat lunch. Noone said that was impossible before because of the carpet.
"It's a nice space to eat in," the principal said.
A sound system and curtains are the last pieces to the puzzle left to be placed. Victoria Larosa, of USA Architects, said the project was expected to be complete by October.
Reflecting on the past year, Noone said what everyone at the school and in the district had to go through was tough. But, "this school is in better shape now than it was before the flood," she said.
Noone said the district and Board of Education were supportive throughout the process. And, today, a bright, shining auditorium stands as a testament to that.
"This is much more useful to the school," Noone said. "This is going to be in the long run a better function."