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Southwest Virginia school cleared to open after being damaged by weekend earthquake

Two other schools also damaged

INDEPENDENCE, Va. – A southwest Virginia school district is delaying its start, but not because of COVID-19.

Three schools in Grayson County have damage due to Sunday’s 5.1 magnitude earthquake in Sparta, North Carolina.

Exactly what repairs, if any, will eventually be made to the cracks at Independence Elementary School, which received the most damage from the earthquake, had yet to be decided Monday, but thankfully, according to the structural engineer, the school is safe with the cracks as they are.

After careful examination, including notes and cell phone pictures, structural engineer Todd Poff gave the cracks at Independence Elementary School his stamp of approval.

“They are not that severe. There’s a lot of them, so the wall has been weakened somewhat, but not a significant amount,” Poff said as he examined cracks in a wall in the gym.

There are multiple cracks on the walls of the stage in the gym and cracks on the walls in multiple classrooms.

Outside, there are cracks in the bricks on the front and sides of the school but they’re not as concerning as the ones inside.

“The inside of the wall is the structural part. The brick is just a veneer,” Poff explained.

He recommended keeping an eye on the cracks on the inside, possibly using a gauge to keep track of any expansion of the cracks.

Grayson County Superintendent Kelly Wilmore points to a crack at Independence Elementary School as structural engineer Todd Poff takes notes.
Grayson County Superintendent Kelly Wilmore points to a crack at Independence Elementary School as structural engineer Todd Poff takes notes. (Copyright 2020 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

Grayson County Schools Superintendent Kelly Wilmore was at a school on Sunday when the earthquake happened.

”It was quite an experience,” said Wilmore.

Surveying the damage, he wasn’t too worried the damaged schools wouldn’t be usable, but because of the potential for aftershocks, school leaders decided to start school Aug. 18 instead of Aug. 13

“All we can do is move forward. We need to get back to school, we need to get our kids back in school. Will do what we’ve got to do,” Wilmore said.

An already somewhat uncertain school year because of the coronavirus pandemic off to a shaky start.

Wilmore said insurance and possibly some money from FEMA will be used to pay for any repairs.

The other two schools in the county with cracks from the earthquake were still being assessed as of late Monday afternoon.