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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

Lake High Flyers leave tornado's ruins for new 'hangar,' hope to rebuild

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With two weeks before school starts, the students and faculty of Lake High School - the Flyers - are girding for a layover in "the hangar."

That's their nickname for the bare-bones classroom space with a corrugated metal facade where they plan to spend the next two school years.

But in the fall of 2012, they hope to move into either a rebuilt or an entirely new building to replace their tornado-ravaged high school in Lake Township, about six miles from where they are now at 2249 Tracy Rd. in Northwood.

Until then, they'll make do in a building less than half the size to which they are accustomed.

The Blade, BCSN, and media partner WTOL-TV Channel 11 are working together to help Lake High School fill its needs list and make the transition into new lodgings. Scroll down for a list of needed assistance and supplies, as well as donation drop-off sites. The Blade, BCSN, and media partner WTOL-TV Channel 11 are working together to help Lake High School fill its needs list and make the transition into new lodgings. Scroll down for a list of needed assistance and supplies, as well as donation drop-off sites.
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"We're the Flyers so we're referring to this as the hangar, because the hangar is a temporary home when you're not in the air," said Jodi Takats, Lake director of curriculum and special education.

Just don't call them grounded.

Lake Local Schools Superintendent Jim Witt said the district will continue to provide a quality learning experience for its more than 400 students in grades 9 through 12.

Their new, temporary home was previously Owens Community College's Center for Development and Training.

Yet before school begins Aug. 26, Lake leaders say, they need many classroom supplies to re-place those lost in the June 5 tornado that struck the night before Lake's graduation day, taking six lives.

School leaders also are seeking carpentry, painting, and decorating help to transform their new space.

The Blade and its media partner WTOL-TV, Channel 11, are working together to help Lake High School fill its needs list and make the transition into new lodgings. The news organizations plan to follow the students and faculty through the school year.

Chemistry teacher Ty Bates sets up a classroom in the Owens Community College building that is to house Lake High School's 400 students until their own building is ready. Chemistry teacher Ty Bates sets up a classroom in the Owens Community College building that is to house Lake High School's 400 students until their own building is ready.
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In interviews this week, Lake students explained how the ordeal has strengthened the bonds between classmates.

Many said they are grateful that their high school community will stay intact, even if their building did not.

"This has brought us together more and made us stronger," sophomore Cortnee Cowell, 15, said.

Lake High School has already received numerous desks, chairs, and furnishings for its empty classrooms from Toledo Public Schools' old Woodward High School. Bowling Green State University and the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo also have made significant contributions.

What's more, the high school is currently the top vote-getter in an online promotion sponsored by Kohl's Corp. that could net the district $500,000. Through its Kohl's Cares for Kids Giveback Contest, the corporation says it will give up to $500,000 each to 20 public schools across the country that receive the most votes on a Web site.

There are links to the contest on the school district's own Web site: lakelocal.k12.oh.us.

But Lake is still in need of many classroom supplies, from dry-erase boards to microscopes, because it lost so much in the storm that can't be immediately replaced through insurance.

"We have students coming to school in less than two weeks, and we don't have all the materials we need to have our classrooms up and running," Mrs. Takats said. "One of my biggest concerns is: Will we be able to have the learning environment that we had before?"

It is easy to comprehend the scope of Lake's needs after a visit to the damaged high school building at 28080 Lemoyne Rd., which shares a campus with the district's still-intact middle and elementary schools.

Parts of the school were unsalvageable, including the auditorium, cafeteria, and field house. And inside what's standing is devastation.

Loose wires, strips of metal, and light fixtures dangle from what is left of the second-floor ceiling. Large chunks of roof were ripped off by the twister, leaving open-air skylights and gaping exposures to the elements. Some rooms, including the media center, are uninhabitable.

Hallways and classrooms are littered with twisted metal, broken glass, moldy ceiling tiles, overturned chairs, and hundreds of pebbles.

A swampy odor permeates most of the building.

There appear to be more broken than unbroken windows in the building, particularly in the science and math classrooms facing State Rt. 795.

"All of the classrooms that were on the outside of the building and had windows were damaged," Mr. Witt said.

Electronics fared poorly, said Lee Herman, principal of the high school and middle school. Computers and equipment that weren't destroyed were soaked by the invading rain. And the district's new and expensive array of science laboratory equipment was a total loss.

"Everything is just ruined," Mrs. Takats said.

The district estimates that it had more than $30 million in tornado damage, Mr. Witt said. But school officials have yet to reach an agreement with the district's insurance carrier.

Although district officials say they would prefer to start fresh with an entirely new building, the insurance company says it believes 53 percent of the damaged high school is salvageable, school officials have said.

Members and friends of the Lake High School community have been packing trucks with classroom furnishings from the old Woodward High School and unloading them in the new digs.

Doug Wensink, 18, who graduated this spring, joined about two dozen students and teachers on Monday in hauling Woodward desks, tables, and file cabinets into mostly empty classrooms.

"I had nothing to do today and I've been wanting to help out for awhile," said Mr. Wensink, who is bound for Ohio State University at Lima.

Also helping was chemistry teacher Tyler Bates, who has taught for 23 years at Lake High School and whose classroom was ravaged in the tornado.

"It was pretty surreal," Mr. Bates said of the aftermath, "But I was lucky because the chemicals and everything didn't get wet or get blown together, so we were fortunate in that way."

Incoming freshmen Tabitha Aikman and Nicole Jones, both 14, said they were devastated by the tornado's damage, but they saw a silver lining in navigating "the hangar" for their first days of high school.

"Because we're freshmen, we won't be the only ones who don't know where we're going," Tabitha said.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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