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Clearwater High loses storm battle

For hundreds of Clearwater High School students each day, gym class will consist of board games, videos and long walks.

Monday's tornado damaged the gym so extensively that the Fire Department condemned the building, leaving students without a place to have gym classes or change their clothes.

Not only that, but this week's district volleyball tournament had to be moved. The school needs to find a place for the girls and boys basketball teams to hold tryouts, practice and play games. And other activities, such as class pictures and dance team practice, have to be relocated. This may go on for weeks or months.

"It's a bummer," principal Nick Grasso said. "A gym is so crucial in a high school environment."

Grasso said the school is working to move as many activities as possible to other schools. Boys basketball tryouts will be held at Coachman Fundamental Middle School, the volleyball tournament was moved to Countryside High School and the school wants to use St. Petersburg Junior College's facilities.

"We lose our major home- court advantage this way," said Samantha Hawk, a sophomore and member of the undefeated volleyball team. The team has had to practice at the YMCA this week. "We have a lot of fans here, and a lot of them were planning to come see us play. I don't know if they'll come now. I doubt it."

At this point, officials don't even know if the gym will be repaired, torn down and replaced.

And the damage doesn't end there.

The behind-the-wheel portions of the drivers' education classes are canceled because cleanup crews have parked their vehicles on the school's driving course. About 60 students who drive to school have to park in a different place because their parking lot is too close to the gym. Several outdoor courtyards have been closed off because of fallen trees, leaving students with fewer places to eat lunch. Grasso said he hoped the football field, which was covered with debris and sustained damage to its goal posts and scoreboard, would be ready for next week's Homecoming game.

It could take weeks or months to repair all the damage. The storm caused more than $1-million worth of damage in the county, mostly in Clearwater and Largo.

"Our goal is do it swiftly and minimize the disruption to the educational process," said Tony Rivas, the school system's director of facilities. "It's one of those acts of God we have to deal with."

Rivas said he does not know how long it will take to make the gym repairs or how much it will cost. He expects to have damage estimates in the next week.

Almost a dozen county officials, including architects and engineers, donned hard hats Tuesday to inspect the building. They will consider whether to patch the roof, completely replace it or even tear down the 44-year-old gym and build a new one.

Four students suffered minor injuries when part of the roof fell in Monday morning. Afterward, plastic was put on part of the roof, and a fence was installed around the building to keep people away. About a third of the roof was damaged by the storm, which also left about half a dozen holes in the roof where rain leaked in. Standing water was left on the gym floor and in an adjoining area, which consists of storage space, offices, the wrestling room, restrooms and concession stand. The locker rooms, which were built onto the gym in the mid-1980s, were not damaged but remain unusable because of the condition of the gym.

Generally, Rivas said, the cost of installing a new gym floor costs about $70,000. Scoreboards cost $2,000 to $4,000, but they are usually donated to the school.

Rivas said there is no money set aside to repair schools damaged by storms. The schools are insured but, Rivas said, the deductible is so high, $200,000, he doesn't know if the repairs would exceed that amount.

The county is scheduled to begin an $8-million renovation to the school soon. The project, which will include renovations to walkways and classrooms, will not affect the gym.

Rivas said he did not know if money would be taken out of that project or another project at a different school to pay for the gym repairs.

_ Times researcher Carolyn Hardnett contributed to this report.

Games moved

The district volleyball tournament scheduled for Clearwater High School has been moved to Countryside High School, 3000 State Road 580, Clearwater. The games will take place at 6 tonight, and the final game will be at 7 p.m. Thursday. The junior varsity football game between Clearwater and St. Petersburg high schools has been moved to St. Petersburg High School, 2501 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. The game will be played at 7 p.m. Thursday. Swim meets will be held as scheduled at Clearwater High.

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