By John Burton
MONMOUTH BEACH – It’s been a long five months and a tough balancing act for Superintendent Brian Farrell as he has worked to maintain a sense of normalcy for borough students and staff while they have been in three schools in three districts while their storm-damaged elementary school is repaired.
“It’s been a challenging year,” Farrell said, “but you have to make do.”
During Super Storm Sandy, the Monmouth Beach Elementary School, 7 Hastings Place, was flooded with more than 2 feet of water, ruining furniture, textbooks, flooring, the heating and electrical systems and damaging records.
The work needed to get the one-story building back into shape and replace equipment is expected to cost about $2 million when completed.
The building is expected to be ready for the students’ return on June 3.
Until then the school’s approximately 300 students will continue to be educated in Oceanport for pre-K and kindergarten students, West Long Branch for grades 1-4, and Shore Regional High School for fifth- through eighth-graders. Those receiving districts were quick to respond to Monmouth Beach’s situation.
“They were very accommodating,” Farrell said.
But the situation created a whole array of other considerations for Farrell and his staff, the staffs of the receiving schools, and families to address. “It’s been just all-encompassing,” to address these concerns, he acknowledged, sitting in his makeshift office, located in Shore Regional High School.
Monmouth Beach is a walking district, so students’ transportation was one concern on the list. And working in these now overcrowded buildings meant shuffling students and teachers to make classrooms available. And even some typical issues he and the staff would have to arrange, such as trips and assemblies, meant an added layer of complexity to work out the logistics. “There’s always other things you have to do,” he explained, “that you wouldn’t have to when you’re in your own building.
“It’s been stressful for them,” he said, referring to families who have to deal with students out of town, and in some cases families with their children in different schools in different towns. Still, there are about 30 families from town who are displaced because of the storm, he said.
But teachers have really stepped up and addressed a difficult situation, keeping students and their educational needs always in sight, he said.
As for the students: “The kids are actually doing well,” he said. “They are resilient.
“Do they want to go back to their school? Yes, they do,” he said. “But they’ve acclimated quite well.”
Farrell and the staff have made sure that life progressed as normal as possible for students, with kids continuing to participate in extracurricular activities, like sports, and plans for this year’s play are on track with a production of The Wizard of Oz scheduled for this week.
Students enjoy taking the bus and having a large cafeteria where they can buy lunch (instead of bringing it), he said.
But students are looking forward to being back, especially eighth graders, who will get the chance to graduate in their building. And like the students, Farrell also wants to be back there, he acknowledged. “I’m just going to be happy to be in a normal environment,” he said.
As work on the building continues toward completion, Farrell noted there are things to take away from what happened and how to plan for the future. “It’s never going to be a perfect world,” he said. “But try to be prepared as much as possible for just about anything.”