St. Paul’s Sends Students Home

Armed with day excuses, a camera, and a notepad, we drove two hours north to Concord, NH to see St. Paul’s School’s flooded campus. As we drove up the road to the school, we crested a hill and saw a blockade – floodwaters had washed out the road. Parking at the eerie, seemingly abandoned state facility, we continued on foot. An entire community shut down, echoes of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. No students, no teachers, no classes, no sports, no senior spring, no prom. Houses were sandbagged, and rivers ran down the streets. When we reached the school and identified ourselves as student journalists, the security guard told us to head in, directing us to the command center on the second floor of the Schoolhouse. Passing yellow-slickered faculty members talking in code on radios, we entered, and spoke with Rector Bill Matthews and Director of Admissions Michael Hirschfeld. Although Mr. Matthews was only free for a few moments, we were able to ascertain what had really happened at SPS. By 8 a.m. on Monday May, 15th, Mr. Matthews, cognizant of the fact that the sewage system was malfunctioning and that the school’s pumps unable to keep up with the floodwaters, made the executive decision to evacuate the school. The administration announced its decision eight, and by 4:30 p.m. all the students, save 13, had left. SPS has an enrollment of approximately 520 students, with no day students. 200 local boarders and their friends were able to evacuate on Sunday night. The 13 remaining students spent the night in one dorm located at the top of a hill with an independent septic system, and left by 5:45 a.m. Mr. Matthews also dispelled the rumors about rowers sticking around to train. “We’re not teaching chemistry, so we’re not playing sports,” he said, while Mr. Hirschfield, who is also the St. Paul’s Boys Crew coach, lamented the abrupt end of his team’s promising season. Mr. Matthews was quick to applaud the efforts of the SPS faculty and staff. He said, “They were great…everything went smoothly, considering the circumstances.” We then went out into the rain with Mr. Hirschfeld to see the damage for ourselves. Water was being pumped out of the Ohrstrom Library basement into the already swollen pond, and roaring over the dam past sandbag walls and around a dorm. Gesturing towards the sodden redbrick building – the Hargate Art Center – Mr. Hirschfeld said, “Yeah, last night, we were worried that the building over there was going to float away.” We asked Mr. Hirschfeld whether or not they could determine if the pictures inside the museum were safe. He responded optimistically that it was presumed all the paintings were stored high enough to avoid damage; however, it still remains to be seen whether this presumption is true. Seniors will still receive their diplomas, while the policy on grades is yet to be determined. As we walked off campus, there were no shouts of high-schoolers playing, no organized chaos of students rushing to class, but St. Paul’s was still alive and breathing, a community only temporarily displaced.