Local school districts and universities were far from a complete accounting of damage caused by this week’s winter weather, but it seemed likely damage would stretch into the millions of dollars.
Pipes burst and leaked, flooding an untold number of buildings by Thursday afternoon.
Representatives from the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University, Denton ISD and Argyle ISD all said they wouldn’t be able to fully assess damage until things hopefully begin to thaw out over the weekend.
UNT President Neal Smatresk estimated 12-15 buildings were affected across campus.
“The good news is, emergency crews were like superheroes as far as I’m concerned,” he said Thursday afternoon.
He said small pipes burst in residence halls, three sorority houses and one fraternity house flooded, the athletic complex had several buildings with damage and even the new welcome center was among those affected.
“This is the one that’s just a heartbreaker for me,” Smatresk said of flooding at the welcome center.
He said crews had been working around the clock to mitigate damage from burst pipes, but more problems were cropping up faster than could be addressed.
At that point, officials had crews drain every building so no more pipes would burst.
That, coupled with the citywide boil notice, led UNT officials to purchase approximately 40,000 bottles of water to distribute to the 1,400-1,600 students currently living on campus.
Smatresk said this week’s weather provided the added crisis of widespread communication hurdles as power outages made it difficult to communicate with students via many of the normal channels. That meant officials relied more heavily on social media.
Additionally, power outages crashed UNT’s IT and data center, and temperatures congealed diesel fuel making backup generators fail, as well. He said the IT department should eventually be able to revive that system.
Perhaps the cruelest irony came in the form of damaged cold storage facilities.
“When we lose power to buildings, we lose power to our ultra-low freezers,” Smatresk said.
Over at TWU, failing sprinkler heads located in storage closets leaked in Lowry Woods required some residents to relocate to other dorms. Matt Flores, a university spokesperson, said there weren’t firm numbers on the number of people relocated by Thursday afternoon.
He said repairs kept most dorms warm, “with the exception of a few lower floors in Guinn Hall.”
Much like UNT, TWU was passing out bottled water to those on campus.
Reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, DISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson said most damage they were aware of at that point was located in entryways, offices and areas around exterior walls.
He said the district was possibly looking at some classroom damage, as well.
He estimated the district knew about damage to a dozen facilities by Wednesday, but there was a lot they simply didn’t know at that point.
Among those damaged buildings was Strickland Middle School. Wilson said existing water problems at that campus were exacerbated by the winter weather, and the section that failed this week is among the areas on that campus scheduled for renovation with bond money.
“Our maintenance employees are here and answering the call each and every day, but the same things people are experiencing at their homes are the same things we’re experiencing in our schools,” he said.
He said it wasn’t yet clear how many in-person classes might have to be delayed due to damaged schools.
Smatresk said the same for UNT, though he was hopeful all in-person classes would be able to resume come Monday morning.
Wilson said the district would try to have such announcements made by the end of the week if they were needed, and cleaning crews were already working onsite.
“We’re right in the middle of it,” he said.