Woodstock Nursery School still shuttered as flood damage delays fall start


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 09-07-2023 5:57 AM

WOODSTOCK — While many students across the Upper Valley have returned to their classrooms in recent days, pupils of the Woodstock Nursery School are still waiting for their school’s doors to reopen.

On hot days like the Upper Valley has had this week, the school’s director and the school’s other two teachers would normally bring students outside to play in the nearby Ottauquechee River with beach toys, said Wendy Krygier, one of the center’s two full-time workers. In past years, they’ve use the river as a teaching tool, having students observe when it’s frozen or moving, if there are ice chunks and whether it is low or high.

This year, as the school recovers from losses incurred during the July 10 flooding that swept through much of the state, the beginning of the students’ study of the river — which carried nearly 4 feet of water into the school — has been delayed by about a month.

“Your routine’s kind of off,” Krygier said of the school’s delayed start. It’s “one of those feelings like you’re just not sure what day it is. (It’s a) day off that you weren’t expecting.”

The school sits in the lower level of an 1800s-era stone building, known as the “Little Theater,” along the Ottauquechee River in Woodstock. The town was among the Upper Valley communities hardest hit in this summer’s floods.

“The building itself is somewhat indestructible,” according to Gail Devine, director of the nonprofit Woodstock Recreation Center, which owns the Little Theater and rents space to the school.

While the structure survived, the flooding destroyed the hot water, heating and electrical systems, as well as the walls, appliances and cabinets. Because the building’s bathrooms are on the lower level, the theater on the upper floor — typically used for fitness classes and other programs — also has yet to reopen. Devine estimates the damage totals $75,000, approximately 70% of which she hopes will be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The nonprofit will have to fundraise for the rest.

The nonprofit nursery school also is fundraising to cover the costs of its lost materials. Krygier, the school’s director, estimates the school “lost about 90% of our things.”

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The items needing replacement include: rugs, desks, chairs, toys, books and puzzles, Krygier said. Even the plastic bins the school uses for storage had to be replaced after they took on water.

A few things, such as big jugs of paint, could be salvaged. But it will cost $400 just to fill the sandbox, she said.

A GoFundMe for the nursery school has raised nearly $12,000 toward the $35,000 goal. The school also is pursuing grants to help cover expenses.

But even the school’s ability to apply for grants was hindered by the flooding. Documents necessary for grant applications were stored in a filing cabinet that was flooded. Though the school, which has been in operation since 1951, can obtain replacements through the IRS, it will take time. Krygier said she plans to get a scanner in order to store documents digitally to avoid future, similar losses.

“Families have been really helpful and respectful,” Krygier said of the flood recovery.

Devine said she is currently targeting an Oct. 1 reopening date for the building, which at less than three months from the date of the flood will be a much quicker recovery than the recreation center saw following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Back then, the stone building took on water, as did the neighboring recreation center. The facilities were closed for a year.

This time, Devine knew what to do. She said she had Servpro, which provides water restoration services, on the phone while the water was still coming into the building. As a result, that part of the cleanup went fairly quickly.

It has been more challenging to find workers to come in to make the repairs, she said. A painter came in over the long Labor Day weekend and wrapped up work on Tuesday, she said.

In the longer term, Devine said, she hopes to work with state officials to develop a plan to redirect floodwater away from the building should the river waters rise again to the heights they reached in July.

“Hopefully that is something that can be addressed,” she said.

Krygier credited Devine with quick action to address the damage to the building, which Woodstock Nursery School has occupied for about five years. Prior to that, the space was filled by Rainbow Playschool, which moved to North Barnard Road.

Following the July flooding, school employees and volunteers also came and removed silt from the school’s playground.

“It’s going way faster than we ever could imagine,” Krygier said.

Still, she said, she feels disoriented to have the school’s scheduled start date, Aug. 30, come and go without opening the doors.

School officials had hoped to find an alternative location but were unable to find one that would satisfy state regulators.

Krygier, who has led the school for four years, expects to start the year with a dozen students ages three to five. Though the school is licensed for 20, she said they like to keep it small. The school is normally open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday and follows a school calendar.

But this year Krygier’s summer vacation was interrupted three weeks in. A mother to a 2 ½-year-old, Krygier, a Bethel resident, said she was looking forward to having the summer to regroup.

“Mentally it’s just been a lot,” she said. “… I really needed this time with my family.”

Instead, her time has been spent emailing, making phone calls, talking with insurance companies and checking out possible alternative sites, which didn’t work out.

But even amid the flood recovery, Krygier said she met with the other teachers to talk about the school’s curriculum, which she said gave them a chance to focus on what’s really important. They’re now planning on inviting in families once or twice a month for activities such as hiking, singing, painting or reading.

It’s “important for parents to be in our space (and) know what we do,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.