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Gemini School Floods, Students Sent Home

School was cleaned up by afternoon, classes resume Thursday.

After a morning of heavy rain Wednesday, everything happened at once for Principal Scott Herrmann. 

"It was kind of an exciting day," he allowed. 

After 11 a.m., an alarm went off in the elevator, indicating water was present. As he was heading over to inspect it, his walkie talkie blared that there was a toilet backup on the building's lower level. Then someone told him there was water in the hallways.

"We went on a suspended schedule, which means kids stay in their rooms," said Herrmann, who leads the school, which educates seventh- and eighth-graders from all of East Maine School District 63, which includes Des Plaines, Niles, Morton Grove, Glenview and unincorporated Maine Township.

At that point, water was coming up through drains and much of the lower level had wet floors.  Staff moved all the students upstairs, avoiding having them walk through the water. 

"We've had a lot of floods here. We know the drill," Herrmann said.

Dr. Scott Clay, East Maine School District 63 Superintendent, and David Bein, executive director of business services for the district, drove over to Gemini and decided lunch was out of the question, since the cafeteria is on the lower level. With all of the school's students crowded into half its space, they made the call to let students go home.

Since almost all the students had cell phones, teachers let them call their parents to ask to be picked up. 

"We moved kids into the gold gym by team, and parents went into the gym, found their kids and signed them out," Herrmann said.

"The parents came all at once. Within an hour, 850 kids left."

The school fed lunch to the 20 who remained and took them to the library. 

Herrmann praised the staff, who jumped in to direct parent traffic, help parents find their kids, contact the food service company, do whatever needed doing and suggest ways to help organize the chaos.

"I was so proud of these people. It went off without a hitch. It was awesome," Herrmann said.

"It's so humbling to work with people like this."

Wednesday's flood was minor compared to a flood four years ago, which shut Gemini down for seven weeks and forced the district to shift students to elementary schools for that period, Herrmann said. Gemini's lower level had about five to six inches of standing water in that flood.

The wetness popped the asbestos tiles on the floor, and the district made the decision to do the job right and abate the asbestos, he said.

He noted the school, which was built in 1960, has an upper floor and a lower floor which is about half a flight below grade, and flooding has been a recurrent issue.

Maintenance workers cleaned and disinfected the school Wednesday afternoon, and classes will resume Thursday. 

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