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Nicolet nightmare: 80 percent of school hit hard by flooding

Officials face monumental task in getting ready for new year

July 28, 2010

Glendale — Summers in school districts tend to be quiet. Usually there are construction upgrades, planning for the coming school year, interviews for vacant positions and not a lot more.

But District Administrator Rick Monroe knew the summer had taken a dramatic turn as he waded through knee-deep water looking for a door where he could safely enter the high school last Thursday.

Guided by the light of his flashlight, he got a firsthand look at the damage caused by the cascade of water that came from the north down Jean Nicolet Road and onto school property.

A metal door to the basement was mangled and opened by the force of the water. The basement had almost 6 feet of water in it. More water was all over the first floor - anywhere from 2 to 6 inches.

For Monroe, who was principal at Shorewood High School in 2004, when a fire destroyed 25 percent of the building, the feeling he got as he walked through Nicolet was all too familiar.

"I always thought the fire at Shorewood High School would be the worst devastation I would ever see in a school," he said. "This is worse."

About 80 percent of the school was flooded during a rainfall that totaled more than 8 inches in less than five hours.

Since Friday, Monroe and other Nicolet staffers have been working nonstop to clean up the building, assess the damage and try to get things ready for the start of the school year.

More than 80 people are working in the school, and a massive amount of specialized cleaning and dehumidifying equipment sits in the driveway in the east entrance, which is now clear of the 4 feet of water that gathered there during the rain.

The job ahead is Herculean, but officials are confident it will get done. They plan to have the building open for classes on Sept. 1 - right on time - and hope to have it partially open for registration on Aug. 18.

Laundry list of problems

Brian Reiels, Nicolet's director of facilities services, catalogued the damage for the School Board Monday night. The total dollar value of the damage hasn't been calculated yet, but the losses are tremendous. Insurance should cover most of those costs, officials say.

The electrical switching gear and phone systems are ruined, and the fire alarm system is damaged. The air handling system in the basement was destroyed; the boiler has mud inside. All the carpet in the building must be replaced, and any wet cabinets must be pulled out and replaced.

"When we opened up the gym floor today, there was a little lake underneath it," Reiels said. It, too, will be replaced.

Reiels said all the props for the theater department were destroyed. Musical instruments have been placed in a room where backup generators can provide air conditioning and gradual drying. Their final fate is unknown.

Water wicked up 24 inches on drywall on the first floor.

Reiels said he remembers other floods at the building going back to 1976. None of them compare to this one.

"This was a massive flood," he said.

Some bright spots

On the positive side, Monroe said the high school's 10,000 textbooks were spared. Not a drop of flood water got to them.

J. Murphy of Paul Davis National, a restoration company that is helping with the cleanup, said metal furniture can be cleaned and sanitized but other furniture will be joining the debris in Dumpsters.

"If it got wet, we will be throwing it out," Murphy said. "If it is not wet, it will be analyzed and sanitized where possible. Every square inch in the building and all the contents in the building will be cleaned and sanitized if they are staying in the building."

Dehumidifiers and fans are being used throughout the building to speed the drying process.

John Reiels, director of technology, said the district moved a student information system off site on July 1. Although there was some discussion about the pros and cons of that decision prior to July, the move looks brilliant now since that information was not compromised.

Rec programs on the move

Kirk Krychowiak, who is both athletic director and director of the recreation department, said there had been rec programs scheduled in the school, but he has been scrambling to move them elsewhere. The summer programs will be winding down soon.

"The majority of the fall programs don't start until Sept. 7," he said.

Practices for fall sports start beginning Aug. 9 and continue through Aug. 16. He is working on moving athletic events to different sites, or in some cases, canceling them.

"We may have to have practices off campus," he said.

Offices moved to Stritch

While the building is being cleaned, preparations for the fall semester will continue in temporary offices in two computer labs at Cardinal Stritch University in Glendale. John Reiels said as the servers return from Madison, they also will be placed at Stritch.

"We will be using two computer labs in the basement of St. Bonaventure Hall," he said. He hopes to have e-mail online within the week.

Reiels said he hopes to have the main Nicolet phone line operative at the Stritch site as soon as possible.

Brian Reiels said the Glendale-River Hills School District and the city of Glendale have helped out by providing everything from rooms for meetings to assistance with trash collection to helping with paperwork on disaster relief applications.

Residents also have offered assistance, but for now school officials are asking them to stay away, he said.

"The best thing is to stay off campus," Brian Reiels said. "The more we have to stop and ask people to step outside, it stops our momentum."

School officials said residents should check the district's website at for updates on registration, fall sports and recreation programs.

$17.9 million

estimated damage in the North Shore after last week's storms, excluding Mequon and Thiensville

$14.5 million

estimated damage to homes in the North Shore


estimated number of homes damaged

Source: Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office


Some of the problems Nicolet officials are dealing with:

• the electrical switching gear and phone systems are ruined;

• the fire alarm system is damaged;

• the air handling system in the basement was destroyed;

• the boiler has mud inside it;

• all the carpet in the building must be replaced;

• all the props for the theater department were destroyed;

• the floor of the gym must be replaced; and

• administrative offices have been moved to Cardinal Stritch University

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