By John Burton
Monmouth Beach students celebrate reopening of Sandy-damaged school
MONMOUTH BEACH – The hope was to have the borough’s Sandy-damaged elementary school opened by the beginning of June. They made it.
“As a parent, it is gratifying to see my eighth-grader graduate from this school,” said Parent Teacher Organization President Homeria Walter, during the official ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday, June 3, marking the school’s reopening seven months after being damaged by Super Storm Sandy.
The difficulties parents, students and teachers had during the time the structure was being refurbished appeared all but forgotten as they returned to the school. Many were wearing brightly colored T-shirts proclaiming “MB Strong” and smiles.
The school, which has about 300 students, was flooded when about 2 feet of water swept through it, ruining books and supplies, carpet and furniture and school records. It also wrecked the heating and electrical systems. The work to restore the structure cost approximately $2 million, according to Superintendent Brian Farrell.
In the interim, Monmouth Beach students, faculty and staff went to the West Long Branch and Oceanport school districts and Shore Regional High School for instruction.
“It was a tough time being out of the building,” said Nancy Pietz, a fifth-grade teacher who has 20 years in the district. “It’s great to be back.”
Pietz insisted the remainder of the school year would be productive.
“I’m going right back to the books,” she said. “The summer’s not here yet.”
The school was reopened with not quite three weeks left in the school year so students and faculty could regain a sense of normalcy and to allow the eighth-graders to graduate from the school.
“In the long run it worked out OK,” teacher Tina Freglette said. “It looks great.”
For parent Maureen Somers having two of her three children in the school “was very chaotic.” She had to juggle the schedules of her entire family to accommodate everyone. Somers said Monmouth Beach students didn’t have lockers at their temporary schools and they had to carry around their books and other items each day.
Danny Mendillo, a seventh-grader, felt the two toughest parts of dealing with being in another school were transportation and sports. When they overlapped, he and his fellow students had to maneuver to get to and from practices. The bright side was he “got to meet a lot of new friends.”
“It was kind of hard for us,” agreed seventh-grader John Salerno. “We weren’t familiar with that school,” which was Shore Regional High School.
Their classmate Zach Berman said getting out of school later than usual at Shore Regional made “it tough getting us to everything,” including sports and extracurricular activities. “Just the feeling of being back and seeing everyone back together is really great,” he said.
Tony Macaluso, a third-grader, was also glad to be back in his own school. “It’s really great to be back,” said Tony, who has been attending West Long Branch’s Betty McElmon Elementary School. He missed the Monmouth Beach school gym and some of his friends who wound up going to another school. “I’ll be glad to see them again,” he said with a shy smile.
After the storm, about 50 schools across the country started collecting funds to help the Monmouth Beach district and raised about $78,000, according to the PTO’s Walter.
The Two River Theater, in Red Bank, also conducted its own fundraising effort for the district and collected $10,000, Walter said.
The funds were used to offset the cost of replacing lost equipment, supplies and furniture, Superintendent Brian Farrell said. “Some good does come out something like this.”
The school’s reopening brings about a change in the district leadership. Board of Education Vice President Kirk Ruoff announced Farrell, who has been with the district for 1½ years, is leaving. Replacing him in July will be Michael Ettore, who has 25 years in education, including working as a principal in the Marlboro district and teaching in Little Silver.
Farrell said he will be leaving to enter business in the private sector.