PALMER — Staff returned to Colony High School Thursday and students will fill the hallways Friday for the first time since the Nov. 30 earthquake that struck Southcentral Alaska. But there is one area of Colony High that will remain off limits.
“It’s closed indefinitely,” Colony High principal Brendon McMahon said Wednesday afternoon.
McMahon said, as of Wednesday, there has been no official announcement that the school’s gymnasium will be closed for the remainder of the school year. But school officials are operating as if the gym will be unavailable for a long period of time. Colony High activities director Kristy Johnston has worked with administrators at schools across the Palmer-Wasilla area to move Knights basketball practices and previously schedule home games to other locations. Colony administrators and teachers will work to adjust the game plan for the school’s physical education classes.
Colony High administrators, teachers and coaches are adjusting as engineers continue to assess damage to the gym. McMahon said there is significant structural damage following the 7.0 earthquake on Nov. 30 and the aftershocks that followed. McMahon said there is damage to the cinder blocks in certain areas of the gym, and cracks in the wall. He said there is great concern about the front of the school, the north side of the gym. At one point, McMahon said there was concern if whether the school’s front offices would be available for use.
Regardless of the impact of the loss of use of the gym and the adjustments that will have to be made, McMahon said safety is always priority.
“Take the ultimate precaution for the students, and the building employees for that matter,” McMahon said.
Until more is known about the extent of the damage of the gym, McMahon said nobody is allowed inside.
“We have to really stress that to staff and students,” McMahon said. “I know people are curious. I can’t even go in there.”
As Johnston works to reschedule games and practice, most notably for the basketball season, which just started, McMahon praised the personnel at neighboring Valley schools who have helped the Colony administrators work through the problem.
“Even though there is a shortage of gym time, people at other schools have all been very understanding, very accommodating,” McMahon said.
Colony High boys basketball head coach Tom Berg said his players are happy to be back on the floor, regardless of which gym it’s in after the earthquake and the time that has been missed since.
“The guys are resilient. They just want to play,” Berg said. “We certainly do love our gym. We think it provides a great atmosphere for basketball, great practice facility, great home court. But I’m blessed to have a bunch of guys who just want to hoop.”
Berg’s seniors are facing the potential of playing their entire final season away from their schools, but Berg said they’re handling it well.
“It’s most disappointing for our seniors. They’ve spent so much time in the gym. But to be perfectly honest, they’ve been the best about it,” Berg said.
Berg said the Knights have been practicing at Palmer Junior Middle School since they were able to return to the court. Following the holiday break, Colony will have most of its practices at Teeland Middle School. Berg said both schools have welcomed his program, and have been very accommodating.
The Colony boys and girls teams are at the forefront of the adjustments, with the recent start of the 2018-19 season. But it goes beyond basketball, McMahon said. Teams in other Colony sports and activities that would use the gym during the winter are looking for alternatives. McMahon said physical education teachers also have to adjust. Colony does have a smaller area used by the school’s wrestling program, which is fine, and the school’s weight room. But teachers are trying to figure out how to accommodate the large physical education classes.
“Some of them have 60 kids,” McMahon said.
Overall, McMahon said he’s proud of how the Colony High students and staff handled themselves during the initial earthquake and the aftershocks that followed. Fortunately, McMahon said, the school’s intercom system was not damage and administrators were able to communicate with those throughout the school. Assistant principals Tom Lincoln and Mike Looney combed the school, make sure no staff or students were injured or left behind, and closed off rooms one they were clear. McMahon said staff members were able to quickly devise the method for checking out students to their families.
McMahon also praised his students for handling a difficult situation safely and with maturity.
Overall, McMahon and Berg stressed everyone is thankful there were no serious injuries.
“We’ve talked about, all across the Valley, how resilient the Valley is. How lucky we were, as bad as it was, we’re talking about things. The damage is significant, but nobody was hurt,” Berg said.
Contact Frontiersman managing editor Jeremiah Bartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.