By Jared Janzen
BURRTON—Students and teachers started the second day of the school year with a bit of a jolt Friday morning. A 4.2 magnitude earthquake struck the area at 7:59 a.m., causing some damage to buildings.
After an initial survey of the damage, Superintendent Joan Simoneau evacuated the high school for the rest of the morning as a precaution. Those classes were moved to the elementary building. Classes returned to normal locations after lunch.
She said she made the call to clear the building that morning until an expert had checked things over because she didn’t want to jeopardize her students.
“It kind of stinks to have to put everybody in one end of the building and kind of disrupt learning,” she said. “Maybe they’ll all laugh at me when we’re all over and say she was silly to take people out of those buildings, but I’m not going to pretend for one moment that structurally engineering is what I know.”
The earthquakes epicenter was three miles from South Hutchinson, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
A structural engineer came that morning to inspect some of the areas of concern. The central office building, which Simoneau said was built in 1920, appeared to have the most damage.
The engineer, Jon Lucas, believed the south wall of the central office appeared to be bowing out. He explained that some of the interior finish materials in front of the structural walls made it difficult to gauge the extent of damage.
“I don’t see a lot of distress in the exterior of the building,” he said. “There’s no major cracking or anything, but … there’s also stuff that’s below-grade because it’s a partial basement, and those walls leaning is a concern.”
The central office also had some cracks inside the boardroom and entryway that Lucas said were less of a concern.
The FACS classrooms in the high school had cracks as well and a buckle near the ceiling. This is the only classroom that doesn’t have a drop ceiling. Simoneau acknowledged that other classrooms may have similar damage that is hidden by ceiling tiles.
Lucas said this damage in the FACS room appeared to be just to the finish, not to the structure itself.
Lucas did take a look above the ceiling tiles at several spots in the hallway around the FACS classroom and said he didn’t see any distress to the double-T’s in the spots he checked.
“I hate to make generalizations about the whole thing, but the areas I’ve seen, I haven’t seen [major issues],” he said.
Lucas is the vice president of Dudley Williams and Associates of Wichita.
Simoneau also pointed out some new cracks in the locker room beneath the stage of the middle school gym. One of the gargoyles outside the east middle school entrance was cracked as well.
Because the school cafeteria is in the portion of the school that was evacuated, lunch was served downtown in the city auditorium. Students were bused there in four shifts. They had planned a cold lunch of deli sandwiches that day, so the only menu change that needed to be made was swapping carrots in for corn.
Middle and high school principal Tyler Hoopes said teachers had done a great job responding to the situation.
“We carried on normal business as well as we could,” he said. “Our teachers are pretty flexible.”
Some students and staff said they’d felt the earthquake, while others didn’t. Simoneau said in general, people upstairs at the middle school felt it, as did people at the central office. She said she herself hadn’t felt the quake. She had been talking to a parent and child at the other end of the building when she got a text message asking if a car had hit the building.
Middle school science teacher Craig Lang said he noticed the quake.
“I didn’t feel it as much as I heard it,” he said. “It sounded kind of like a backfire in the distance. You could hear kind of a rumble or a boom.”
He turned it into a learning moment for his students by showing his students the US Geological Survey website with information on the earthquake.
In the secretaries’ office, Raenita Unruh said she felt the quake, while right next to her Leslie Unruh did not.
“It felt like a car hit the building,” Unruh said. “The door shook and my desk shook.”
She added that she’s felt earthquakes several times before, and what surprised her this time was that she didn’t feel any repercussions.
Junior Krista Woodworth was in the band room at the time and said she hadn’t felt the quake. She said not a lot of her friends had been talking about feeling it.
“It was a surprise,” she said. “I don’t usually feel them either, so it’s not much of a surprise I didn’t feel this one either.”