Photo report on the state of the school in January 2020, with an update on the situation in March.

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Progress Report on Storm Damage at St Mary's School, March 2020

Report and photos by Peter Millington

I took the opportunity during my visit to Tristan over Christmas and New Year 2019/2020 to see the storm damage at St Mary's School and speak with Headmistress Julia Hagan, Education Adviser Clare Ryan and others about plans for its restoration.

The Story so Far

Aerial view from the east of the storm damage to St Mary's School, Tristan da Cunha

Robin Repetto's drone view of St Mary's School from the east clearly shows the storm damage to the roofs

The storm that hit Tristan on the night of the 18th/19th July 2019 caused extensive damage to buildings in the exposed northern half of the settlement. St Mary's School lost much roofing, mostly from its eastern block and the school hall, allowing water in to cause even more damage. The ICT suite, for instance, had been under six inches (15cm) of water. Additionally, the crèche situated in the former builders' accommodation block next to the hospital, lost walls and equipment. See the report on St Mary's School July Storm Impact, August 2019.

Water-damaged ICT Classroom. Some of the furniture is suffering from mildew caused by the damp.

Salvageable equipment and materials were moved to the undamaged classrooms on the north side of school, often packed in Tristan Rock Lobster cartons from the factory. The building containing the crèche was quickly repaired, and all the other classes relocated there pending repairs to the 'old' school. The new classrooms have been satisfactory but cramped, with furniture and resources being fetched from the school as required. The lack of space for indoor games has meant that Prince Philip Hall has had to be used instead. Moving students between the temporary school and the hall has been a problem when the weather has been bad. A school minibus would have been useful. Pictures of the temporary facilities can be seen in the October 2019 school report.

Boxes Games store
Boxes and games equipment (right) stored in the largely undamaged classrooms on the north side of the school.

Situation at the Start of 2020

The intention to restore the school ready for the return from the Christmas break proved to be optimistic, given the sheer quantity of repair work elsewhere. The school roof had been temporarily patched, and things were going well when a second storm hit the settlement on the night of the 2nd/3rd November 2019. This undid some of the repairs that had already been made in the village and caused some new damage, but the school escaped further serious harm. However, the effects of the second storm did set back the repair schedule.

This was the situation when I arrived on Tristan at the end of November 2019. The settlement was a hive of industry, not only with continuing restoration work, but also with important pre-Christmas activities. However, the unseasonable weather that had delayed the arrivals of the MFV Edinburgh and the MV Baltic Trader slowed everything down. With the unloading of the ships taking priority, there were no fishing days during December, and sheep shearing had to be postponed until January after the much needed Christmas break. The school was therefore left alone, apart from the steady effort by the caretaker, Manie Van den Berg, to dry out the interior and salvage the contents.

I was taken round the school in mid-January to see how things were. Externally, the building looked in good shape, apart from different coloured sheeting where the roofs had been patched. Inside was another matter. The worst damaged rooms had been cleared of furniture, equipment and materials, exposing damaged floors and Masonite panelling bowed by water damage or covered in mildew and mould from the remaining damp. Ruined carpeting had been removed, and windows were being left open on sunny days to help speed the drying out process.

Floor Playgroup
Classroom with wrecked floor and damaged furniture. The playgroup classroom.
Ceiling Storeroom

Above: Masonite ceiling panels bowed by water damage.

Right: Mould on water damaged Masonite walls in the storeroom

Conversely, the intact rooms in the north wing were stacked with boxes filled with salvaged equipment and resources. In the library and office, book cases were still covered in the plastic sheeting that had kept most of the books safe.

Mild Storage
Less damaged classrooms used for storage
Library Office
The Library (left) and the Office (right) with bookcases and furniture protected by the sheeting that saved most of the books.

The building was not entirely weather proof. It had not been possible to replace the glass that had been blown out of the inner quadrangle corridor, so water and dirt were still getting inside. Also light could be seen coming through screw holes in the patched hall roof that let some rain in. These were tolerable in the short term.

Quadrangle Corridor

Above: Panes of glass were still missing from the quadrangle corridor.

Right: Water and dirt on floor of corridor next to missing panes of glass

Roofing Hall

Above: Pinpricks of like reveal holes in the hall's outer roof
seen through the damaged ceiling

Left: Damaged roofing sheets stacked in the hall

The plan was for repairs to be handled by the Public Works Department (PWD), contractors, and the School Caretaker, commencing in March 2020 and aiming for students to be back in the old school for the southern winter - i.e. after the May holiday. The roof is clearly one of the first priorities. It had been of concern before the storms, because its timbers have been attacked by boring beetles, but it seems the timbers can be treated rather than replaced. There is a lot of flooring and Masonite panelling to be replaced, as well as some furniture and equipment. The toilet block, which had been redecorated before the storms, could now do with being fully modernised. Fortunately, most of the books survived intact, but some do need replacing.

Toilets Toilets
Two views of the children's toilet block.

Restoration Plans and March 2020 Update

We are pleased to say that UK Government funding has been pledged to cover the cost of building repairs and the replacement of most of the damaged contents. Ovenstone are generously paying for renovation of the school playground, including a new jungle gym. The jungle gym and related items have already been ordered. The Tristan da Cunha Association's Emergency Fund will also be helping, although it will not be possible to be more specific until they are back in the building. Having said that, a need has already been identified to get more books for young adults to encourage reading for pleasure. Also, ruined books in the island's library and archives need to be replaced. These are used by the school for Tristan studies.

I received an update from the school on the 12th March 2020. Relatively little repair work has been started yet, although the caretaker has continued to clear the damaged rooms. He and the PWD team have also removed the damaged Masonite from the worst affected classroom. Replacement of the roof has not yet been started. That is all that we can say for now.