GIBSON CITY — It was the last thing Principal Chris Garard wanted to hear.
The water main leak underneath Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School had gotten worse, and the repairs couldn't be put off any longer. The emergency work would require officials to shut off all water to the building — possibly for several days — and move students and staff to a nearby church.
Students, on the other hand, took the news in typical teen-age fashion. When Garard announced the unexpected turn of events at a Monday morning assembly, they broke into applause.
It's what the second-year principal has come to expect from them, and he meant that in a good way.
"Our kids can roll with about anything," he said. "So it doesn't surprise me that they would be excited about doing something different and taking on a challenge. They're looking at it as an adventure."
School operations could be relocated to the Gibson City Bible Church as early as Tuesday morning or later this week, Garard said. The relocation is expected to last anywhere from one to five days.
"The church has graciously allowed us to come in and use the building, and they've offered us whatever we need," Garard said. "And the students have already been informed that their teachers are working hard to prepare lessons and activities to keep them focused and moving forward during this time."
During the relocation, students and teachers will have to make do without computers and interactive white boards as there's no easy way to move the equipment, Garard said. He also said the school's email and online grading systems won't be available.
However, Garard has posted information about transportation, lunches, classes, extracurricular activities and other information on the school's website. And he's urging parents and students to check it and local radio station, WGCY, for updates.
While the relocation will be an inconvenience, the principal assured that officials are taking "every step possible" to ensure the safety of the 310 students and 35 staffers remains a priority and academic progress will continue "to the best of our ability."
"I'm not worried about teaching or getting the students there," Garard said. "It's the small details that we need to cover — having enough Kleenex and toilet paper and hauling cleaning supplies over — that we keep forgetting about."
He also hopes student don't engage in mutiny when they learn they won't be eating salad, at least not for lunch — something he announced in all caps in his letter to parents and students.
"A lot of our students really like the salad bar," Garard said with a laugh. "The meals will be transported. We're going to provide them with a basic meal, but not the little perks."
The head maintenance worker first detected a problem over Christmas break, when he noticed that excess water was running into a sump pump in the boiler room. Officials found the original 1954 main — which runs under the two-story red brick building, at 815 N. Church St. — had burst somewhere and was leaking.
"We were hoping we could repair it this summer, but the leak has gotten much worse. We're afraid of erosion underneath the building," Garard said.
On Monday, a construction crew began digging a 5-foot-by-5-foot hole in the cafeteria floor to access the pipe.
"Once they get underground, they'll have a better idea of when we'll have to shut off the water," Garard said. He explained that turning off the water will shut off the building's boiler and fire suppression systems, necessitating the relocation.
"They're hoping to locate exactly where the leak is so they can either run a new line from outside the building to a new shut-off ... or hook up a temporary line until the weather is nicer and we can put in a new line."
Garard didn't have any trouble finding a temporary location. The school has held ACT testing, baccalaureate services and other activities at the church, which is about a mile away.
"We've worked really hard to make this building be something the community could use," senior Pastor Paul Thomason said, adding it was built 10 years ago and features a large multipurpose room, cafe and eating area, 13 classrooms and library. The church has a large youth attendance, including 60 high school, 45 junior high school and 120 elementary school students.
"We intentionally try to plan a calendar with fewer activities in January and February, and it proved to be an awesome decision this year. We'll work with them to provide whatever we can so they can proceed as normally as possible," said Thomason, who shared the plan with his congregation on Sunday. "We're glad to be able to serve the community this way."
Senior Emily Young said students took the news in stride and after seven snow days, are glad not to have to miss any more school.
"We're excited to go there," said the Saybrook 17-year-old. "We're just very appreciative that the church would host us."
More information available
Details about Gibson City Melvin Sibley High School’s temporarily relocation — including transportation; lunches; student supplies; Certified Nursing Assistant, band, chorus and physical education classes; extracurricular activities; student medications; and communication — are available at: http://www.gcmsk12.org/schools/high-school. During the relocation, the school will be closed to students and parents. However, a secretary will remain at the school, and people can still call the school at 784-4292.