Despite much damage and ongoing repair caused by the Dec. 11 tornado that hit the Nashville area, a private Catholic school managed to pull things together to open on time for second semester Jan. 4.

St. Joseph School in Madison sustained considerable damage from the pre-dawn tornado and had to fast track Christmas break because of downed power lines, a roof blown off much of the gym and other damage. Officials there rallied contractors, local utility officials, chainsaw experts, flood restoration workers, faculty, school parents and community members to tackle the mess and fast-track repairs to open in time last Tuesday.

When school officials arrived shortly after the tornado swept through, they saw the school’s gym roof ripped off in some places and severely damaged in other places, water in the gym, cafeteria, kitchen and in the hallway leading to the gym.

“One of the windows along the skywalk is broken,” said the school’s social media manager Savannah Smith after the storm. “The huge tree on the playground is down and the playground is damaged. The back parking lot is a tangled web of downed power lines, utility poles and debris, which is our greatest safety concern.”

Meridith Stephens, the school’s Director of Advancement, said the cleanup took some time because there were safety issues that had to be addressed before professional or volunteer crews could start cleaning up debris and water.

“We asked that the wonderful people who immediately offered to help clean up wait until we sent out the call for help,” she said. “This was so that the professional clean up could happen and make it safe for our volunteers to come and clean up the debris and help with other tasks.”

More than 30 volunteers came on Tuesday, Dec. 21 to assist with the clean-up. That effort was led by the Director of Religious Education and the Youth Director, Mike Zimmerman.

The water in the gym, kitchen, cafeteria and hallway had to be cleaned and dried.

“New flooring outside the gym had to be pulled up due to water seeping underneath,” said Principal Amy Lavender. “The window along the sky walk has to be replaced, as well as a few windows located in between the church and school building.”

The beloved toppled tree in the playground had to be removed.

“Some playground equipment is still in need of repair,” said Stephens. “NES had to remove all the downed power lines and utility poles. There was minor damage to the roof of the main building, but there is major damage to the gym roof that is still being repaired.”

Flooring repairs, window and playground fence replacement are still on the “to do” list, and some larger cement pieces need to be hauled away.

Work on the gym and its roof is ongoing and they expect that to take an additional month or so. So, the cafeteria is being used for some gym classes so students are eating in their classrooms for now.

“The students are used to this and the teachers take the classes outside for lunch whenever the weather is pleasant enough to do so,” said Stephens. “The students are just happy to be back and are okay with eating in their classrooms.”

The area around the gym is off limits for now, as well as a few restricted areas outside as well. There are no initial estimates on total repair costs at this time. And, winter weather, supply chain issues and lack of workers may extend completed repair estimate times.

“With an extended Christmas break due to storm damage, we are so happy to see our halls filled with Bulldogs again,” said Lavender. “We look forward to many improvements on our campus as we make repairs. We are extremely thankful for the outpouring of support to help SJS from not only our church and school family, but the greater community and even out of state friends. We are so blessed.”

St. Joseph was closed last Thursday and Friday because of snow. It serves grades pre-K2 through 8 and is located at 1225 Gallatin Pike South.

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