Students aren't idle as Nicolet repairs continue

Benny Sieu
Nicolet football players retrieve equipment from a trailer on Thursday. They use a tent to change into their uniforms.
Published on: 9/4/2010

One possible benefit from the massive flooding that swept through Milwaukee County on July 22: Some of Nicolet High School's fall sports teams may be incrementally better this year.

With the opening of school delayed 12 days as flood-forced renovations continue, swimming, football, cross country and even cheerleading practices have gotten a little longer, what with all the time to fill.

While kids across the Milwaukee area were back in class last week, Nicolet students had an extra week and a half of vacation. Some were practicing sports. Some were seizing the opportunity for more time at the mall, or the beach, or more hours on the summer job. Others were champing at the bit to get back to class.

For officials at the Nicolet High School District, though, it's not a vacation at all. When Superintendent Rick Monroe showed Laurel Bear, chair of the school board's facilities committee, around the school Thursday, it was clear that the place was a long way from being ready for its students to return.

Desks, chairs, filing cabinets and other furniture and equipment were stacked in hallways throughout the building. Some 100 workers were in the school, many finishing up flooring replacement - more than 80% of the school's floors were damaged when water rushed into the building in July.

The repairs have been a moving target. Just last Sunday, school officials decided to take out the seating and pull up the tiles in the school auditorium, after workers noticed adhesive oozing up from under them. A few weeks ago, Monroe was estimating total cost of the repairs at over $5 million, but now he's saying $6 million - most of it covered by insurance.

Monroe said repeatedly that he was committed to being ready to start classes on Sept. 13, though admitting the refurbishment of the school would be only 95% finished by then. The school's boilers, for example, which were destroyed by 5 feet of water in the basement, won't be replaced until October - which means that Monroe is praying for warm weather until then.

More time for practice

Outside the school, the varsity football team was making the best of a bad situation, despite the fact players had to change in a tent and store their equipment in a trailer.

"We're practicing longer than we would be," said Brian Sommers, the team's head coach. "It's been one of the silver linings of the situation."

Said Matt Houde, a senior lineman: "We've been really working hard and coming together. We're starting to become mentally tough."

Nicolet hasn't been known as a football power - the varsity was 1-8 last year - but the junior varsity was 7-2, so JV players moving up is another reason for hope, says Matt Mutiva, another senior lineman. (One more reason to hope: The team's 9-0 defeat of Wauwatosa East on Friday.)

Other students who were in the area Thursday had a less utilitarian approach.

Sophomore Christa Rumbaugh welcomed the extra vacation, saying, "I'm going to cram in all the beach days I can."

Her friend Kerry Gregory, a junior, is catching up with "The Color of Water," a book she was supposed to read over the summer but didn't quite get around to. But she's got "a lot of extra free time I don't know what to do with."

Senior Brianna Achs says she's bored out of her mind with the extra days. "I have a really fun class schedule this year, and I'm really excited to get back," she said.

Adam Kazilsky, a Nicolet senior serving up custard at Kopp's Frozen Custard on Port Washington Road, says he got the job there a couple of weeks ago and is putting in some extra hours now before he settles into a 20- or 25-hour a week schedule during the school year. He said he's putting away money away for college - probably Winona State in Minnesota, where he wants to study music.

Freshman Angelique Hernandez was happy to have the extra time before facing the world of high school.

"There's going to be a lot of teenage drama I'm not looking forward to," she said.

Freshman DeAnte Coleman said he's excited to have the extra vacation, too. "It gives you time to get used to the fact of starting high school," he said.

Coleman was interviewed right after a freshman football game he'd watched with his mother, Martinique Coleman. The game did not do much to support the incremental sports improvement effect of the flood repairs - Nicolet lost 35-0, to Wauwatosa East.

There was a bright spot, though: DeAnte's twin brother, DeVante, ran a kickoff back 84 yards for a touchdown - only to have the play called back on another player's blocking penalty.

The boys' mom pointed out that DeVante's name was spelled wrong on the printed roster of the game.

If he keeps making plays like that, they'll be spelling it right soon.