It often takes a crisis for us to see what we’re really made of.
Whether it’s a financial crisis that makes us put our heads together and scrape out a budget that will prolong operations for another year, or a crisis of leadership that causes somebody to take the reigns and earn the trust of their peers, or an environmental crisis that makes us take swift action to reduce our harmful economic activities to safeguard against further damage to the planet.
In Warwick, the most recent crisis wasn’t started due to global warming or an economic bubble bursting – it was caused by a small, rusty metal plug that suddenly and unexpectedly gave way and led to a torrent of water flooding Toll Gate High School.
What has resulted since, we’re thankful to say, has been a flood of support from across the city as officials from all different branches of local government and private industry have worked together to assess the damage, stop it in a timely manner, clean it up in a safe and expeditious manner and, most importantly, get kids back in class with what will hopefully be a minimal disruption to their education.
“It really is a team effort,” said Toll Gate Principal Candace Caluori in the wake of the flood and in the midst of the clean-up. “It's great to feel supported.”
In a city that can appear both from the inside and the outside to be constantly fighting amongst itself, seeing how all parties have aligned to fix a clear and present problem in a timely manner is always refreshing. It’s something that we’ve seen before in recent history as well, when St. Kevin School flooded due to a burst pipe and Mayor Joseph Solomon quickly found them a home in the former Randall Holden Elementary School while St. Kevin was restored.
All hands on deck in Warwick quickly worked together at Toll Gate to assess the cause of the problem, shut off water to the property, clear the water from the building and begin the restoration process. Although students will be displaced for longer than anyone would like to see them displaced, Superintendent Philip Thornton has made his mission to expedite the cleanup process as much as possible, while ensuring that any asbestos tiles that popped up following the flood have been dealt with.
Communication between the school itself and its teachers has also reportedly been done well. Caluori said that teachers were given the chance to get into their classrooms and retrieve necessary instruction materials prior to the school being closed off, which should allow them to at least instruct their curriculum in a limited capacity through Google Classroom and the students’ Chromebooks.
The major questions that remain now is whether or not the state Department of Education will grant a waiver of the required number of days in the classroom, or if the school will have to continue its session well into the summer beyond its scheduled end date in mid-June, and how much the city’s insurance coverage will cover from the damage. On both of these issues, all sides are communicating and going through the procedural processes as they should be.
We are certain that lingering questions will remain unanswered as the recovery from this chaos progresses. What caused the utility well to fail? Did decades of deferred maintenance on school buildings have something to do with it? Will this factor into big picture decisions regarding a new high school possibly being built in the city?
For the meantime, we’re satisfied with the knowledge that when things go awry in the city that affect our kids, those in positions of power are not stunned or paralyzed into inaction. We are encouraged by the response and collaboration seen throughout all facets of this crisis.
It makes us think in a bigger picture as well. How many other monumental problems in Warwick right now are held at bay by a figurative, rusty plug? How many of those problems could be prevented if we just worked together collaboratively before the plug fails and we’re dealing with a crisis?
Our reaction to such crises as the water break at St. Kevin and this issue at Toll Gate show that we’re capable of solving difficult logistical problems, but how we act in more normal times says a lot about us as well. Let’s find those other rusty plugs, and bolt them tight.