ArtsSpace mudslide brings flood of community support

Fred McCormick

Teachers at a Swannanoa Valley school returned to empty classrooms this week after a mudslide left the building in shambles over holiday break.

The total extent of the damage at ArtSpace Charter School was unknown as of Wednesday. But what is clear is the school’s gratitude for the community’s response.

Among those in the community providing support for the school is The Native Kitchen & Social Pub in Swannanoa, which hosted “Dine Out for ArtSpace at The Native” on Jan. 6.

“We at Native have a close and special relationship with ArtSpace Charter School,” the restaurant said in a press release. “Any and all proceeds from the day will be donated to the school’s flood recovery fund. Please join us in supporting this wonderful community as they get back on their feet.”

On Dec. 29, torrential rain collapsed a portion of an embankment next to the school; the resulting mudslide flooded nearly every room of the 40,000-square-foot building, according to executive director Lori Cozzi.

“It happened between 12 a.m.-1 a.m.,” she said. “We all got here as quick as we could. I was out of town, and it took me four hours to get here.”

Cozzi and the rest of the school’s administrative team observed “a lot of water and mud” upon their arrival to the building, she said. The damage delayed the post-holiday start of school, scheduled to happen Jan. 4. Instead, teachers returned to the school Jan. 5 to begin a thorough assessment of the damages in each classroom. Students in grades four through eight were scheduled to return Thursday, Jan. 7; other students were to return Jan. 8 or 11.

Initial efforts by the faculty were to remove standing water. Drywall, desks and bookshelves were severely damaged by the flood water. Volunteers have logged more than 400 hours getting the school ready to reopen, Cozzi said.

“We would not be nearly as far along if we hadn’t had volunteers here to help,” she said. “If we were just relying on the contracted cleanup crew, it would probably have taken us three weeks to get back in school. There has also been a lot of great support in terms of people bringing us food and coffee and things like that. And the fundraising has been big as well.”

A page on the crowd-funding website has already raised more than $20,000 of the $25,000 required to pay the deductible for the school’s flood insurance policy.

Friends and Neighbors of Swannanoa (FANS) gave the school $500 toward clean-up efforts.

Work will be needed to re-enforce the washed-out embankment, Cozzi said.

“We were already working with engineers and planners on these water issues,” she said. “We were hoping to have work done in the summer, but we didn’t imagine getting hit with rain like this in December.”