ELLIS — The majority of classrooms at St. Mary Catholic Elementary School received heavy water damage in Wednesday night’s storm, but school officials and parents are determined for classes to start on schedule in less than four weeks.
A microburst — a small but intense downdraft in a thunderstorm — is believed to have struck Ellis early Wednesday evening, ripping off nearly half the metal roof and knocking debris into the adjacent church. In addition, it’s believed a pressure build-up in the building caused the east wall of the gymnasium to blow out, leaving a gap of several inches between the wall and roof.
An engineer with the state of Kansas was on scene Monday to assess the structural damage and determine the safety of the building.
Whatever the results, Father Dana Clark said school will open as scheduled Aug. 23.
“The backup is we’ll bring some portable classrooms in. But with all the help, God can work miracles for us,” he said Monday morning while working to remove tiles from the ceiling of a classroom.
The help included professionals such as Roofmasters Roofing, who worked Monday to finish a temporary roof, and volunteers who hauled trash bag after trash bag full of rain-soaked ceiling tiles to a dumpster outside the building.
Some of the volunteers Monday morning were football players from the public high school. St. Mary’s physical education and health teacher, Jake Dreiling, also is a math teacher and assistant football coach at Ellis USD 388, and had several of the team members helping out.
Parents and community members have also helped with clean-up since Wednesday’s storm, Clark said.
“It has brought people together, and that’s a good thing. Right after it happened, I was amazed at how many people showed up,” he said.
By 9 p.m. Wednesday, debris had been cleared and holes patched, helping to protect against further damage as another thunderstorm rolled into town with more rain later that night.
Still, the damage was substantial. Although the building’s original roof was still intact under the metal roof, five classrooms sustained water damage. Furnishings and other items that could be salvaged were moved Friday into three large storage containers in front of the school, and volunteers ripped out carpet Monday.
While textbooks and other classroom supplies were damaged, the school is not yet taking donations of supplies, Michele Eberle, a parent helping coordinate the work on Monday, said.
“Right now we’re not just because we don’t have anywhere to put them,” she said.
An account for monetary donations has been established at Equity Bank. They should be marked Attn: St. Mary’s and sent to PO Box 255, Ellis KS 67637.
The church also sustained damage when part of the school’s roof was blown into its side and roof. Two stained-glass windows were broken, and 2x4s from the school roof pierced the church roof.
Five windows were broken in the rectory, and the tin roof in the structure connecting the rectory and church also had holes. Two air conditioning units from that roof were blown into Big Creek.
“If you go in the kitchen, you can see a 2x4 coming through,” Clark said of the rectory.