Manassas's Mayfield Intermediate School repaired, reopened

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010

The bulletin board hanging along the wall at Manassas's Mayfield Intermediate School said it all when students returned to class Tuesday.

Showcasing Dorothy, Toto and the famous expression "There's no place like home," the display summed up the feelings of many educators and students, who were returning to their school for the first time since February, when it was condemned because of snow damage.

"When we first left the building, I said, 'There is no place like home, and I wish we had a pair of ruby red slippers like Dorothy,' " said sixth-grade teacher Cyndy Mattia, who decorated the bulletin board. "When we came back to work, I thought I just had to use that, because there is no place like home. I'm so glad to be back."

The roughly 1,000 fifth- and sixth-grade Mayfield students and 108 staff members were displaced Feb. 8 when the building, which opened in 2006, was deemed unsafe because the unprecedented snowfall had compromised its roof. With the help of the community, fifth-graders were moved to Manassas Assembly of God, and sixth-graders finished classes at the former Marstellar Middle School, owned by Manassas Baptist Church. Principal Jeff Abt said the school also received about $25,000 in cash and supplies donations.

"All we had is what the teachers took home and the students took home that night before the storm," Abt said. "We were back to 'Little House on the Prairie' days" and had to make due with little."

William L. Griffith and Co. completed the repairs at Mayfield without having to replace the roof, which saved more than $2 million and about 18 months of work, said David Peacock, with William L. Griffith.

When crews entered the building to assess the damage, sprinkler heads hung four inches lower than the ceiling, and glass was collapsing but not yet broken, Peacock said. After removing the snow, construction crews raised the roof slightly to replace the trusses supporting it. Extra support beams were added, and Peacock said the building can now handle a load of 30 pounds per square inch, compared with the roughly 20 pounds per square inch it was originally built to sustain.

School officials estimate the cost at about $2.4 million to cover building repairs, housing students in temporary locations as well as other expenses.

Although all Manassas schools closed during the snowstorm, Mayfield students got an extra week off while the school system worked to find them new homes. Abt said many community members pitched in, constructing makeshift blackboards and getting students notebooks, pencils and other supplies.

Because of space constraints, students worked at group tables, not desks, at the temporary facilities. After-school clubs didn't meet, and classes such as band and physical education were cut to one day a week. Abt said that having his staff spread across multiple buildings without a centralized communication system was a challenge. Walkie-talkies, he said, made a comeback.

"It's good to be back," Mayfield sixth-grader Jack Spall said Tuesday. "We have all our cool stuff back, like our own desk. I missed the school."

Mattia and other teachers said they had had to adjust their teaching styles and adapt to a new environment without their materials.

"I have 16 years' worth of science things I didn't have with me," she said. "I make science so hands-on, so it's difficult when you don't have the materials. I also missed not having my own library of books. . . . It was tough."

When students returned Tuesday, the school looked as good as new, although some signs of the abrupt winter exit from the building remained. A holiday doormat and a few snowmen sat in one room, and pictures from the winter choral concert hung in the hall.

"I came back into the school as soon as I could, and it was almost like time stopped," said fifth-grade teacher Joan Masterson, who returned in July to prepare for school. "I still had a Diet Coke on my desk from February, and there were gloves everywhere. It was a little strange, but I am happy to be back."

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