LAND O'LAKES — Visit most Pasco County schools during winter break, and you'll find the building empty and the parking lot vacant.
Not Rushe Middle School.
Electricians, dataport installers, custodians, contractors and a host of workers buzzed through the three-story school on Tuesday — as most days during this vacation — to whip it back into shape after a water main ruptured just outside the gym two weeks ago, putting much of the first floor under a half-inch of water.
There's still an investigation into whether faulty materials or poor handiwork caused the burst. No one has put a final price tag on the cost to repair everything.
One thing is certain, though, district construction director John Petrashek said: The general contractor and plumber that did the original work quickly dropped every other project to ensure that Rushe would be safe for students when the second semester begins.
"The builder has bent over backward to be very amenable to our concerns and to fix the things that need to be fixed," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.
The effort has gone so well, assistant plant manager Doug Neely observed, "we might even be a day ahead." He refused to share the optimism of others around him, who suggested they're two days ahead. "We're not finished yet."
Either way, the workers have made tremendous headway.
Ruined drywall has been replaced, a foot high in many places. Concrete walls have been sanitized and repainted. The plumbing has been repaired, too.
If things go according to plan, Neely said, the floors should be polished and furniture back in place in time for teachers to return to work Monday. If they're lucky, he added, the work could be done in time for everyone to actually enjoy a weekend off.
The only thing that won't be completed by the time students return next Tuesday is the wooden gym floor. Fiorentino said the district has ordered the materials to replace the damaged floor, but she did not expect it to be sports-ready for a few months.
Rushe's winter and spring sports teams will have to play outdoors or at neighboring Sunlake High in the meantime.
The unexpected pipe burst prompted the district to take a closer look at the plumbing work at its other new schools, in particular Crews Middle, which was built with the same design as Rushe. Petrashek said they found nothing, and asserted "the design had nothing to do with it."
The project at Rushe had the most urgency, because the school needs to be habitable for students in just days. But it's not the only one taking place over the break.
Construction is under way for two high schools, a elementary school and an addition at Zephyrhills High.
"We don't get to shut down through the holiday break," Petrashek said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.