Polk County Public Schools officials are assessing the Kathleen Middle School campus that sustained significant roof and rain damage from Friday night’s tornado. No determination on time frame for return to facility.
LAKELAND — It was a weekend of recovery in sections of Polk County following Friday night’s tornado that devastated several neighborhoods, particularly in the Kathleen area of North Lakeland.
The historic Kathleen Middle School building sustained significant roof and rain damage which will necessitate the cancellation of classes for students at the school Monday and Tuesday. All other Polk County Public Schools, however, are expected to remain on a regular schedule.
School district spokesperson Rachel Pleasant said Sunday that no determination has been made beyond the two days off from school as officials assess the Kathleen Middle campus.
On a school district Facebook post it was noted: We will provide updates on the reopening of Kathleen Middle using the automated telephone calling system for parents and guardians, as well as the district’s website and social media (Facebook and Twitter). Local media will also be notified.
In addition, the Polk Education Association and Lake Gibson Middle School are organizing a supply drive for Kathleen Middle teachers.
Melinda Baine, an assistant principal at Lake Gibson Middle, is organizing the drive. Staff at Kathleen are overwhelmed, she said.
Kathleen teachers need “copy paper, notebook paper, pencils, Kleenex, staplers, staples, every classroom supply you can think of,” she said on Facebook. “Gift cards to Target, Walmart, Amazon, teacher supply stores are also welcome.”
Supplies can be dropped off at the Lake Gibson Middle School office, 6901 N. Socrum Loop Road, Lakeland, or at the PEA office, 730 E. Davidson St., Bartow.
Beyond that, Polk County rallied for its neighbors affected by the storm.
Kathleen High School opened its boys and girls locker rooms from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday for residents in need of a hot shower. That portion of North Lakeland, extending to Mt. Tabor Road, had areas significantly impacted from the tornado, which was officially rated an EF2 twister with 120 mph winds by the National Weather Service in Tampa assessment team.
The weather service noted in its official report that Tropical Storm Nestor produced a series of tornadoes late Friday night, originating in eastern Hillsborough County and ending in northwest Polk County. Preliminary estimates had significant damage to around 50 homes, according to the weather service. Numerous businesses also sustained damage.
Included in that assessment were homes in the Mt. Tabor neighborhood that sustained EF2 damage. The weather service continued that the tornado showed signs of weakening and appeared to be lifting as it moved north from the Mt. Tabor area and damaged the roof at Kathleen Middle School. Also, the tornado lifted a large RV onto the roof of a residence near the middle school campus.
The NWS Tampa assessment team estimated the path of the tornado at 9 miles in Polk County with a one-third mile width. The twister officially touched down at 10:59 p.m. Friday at Carillon Lakes, according to the weather service, with the event ending at 11:29 p.m. in North Lakeland.
An EF2 is listed as a strong tornado with wind speeds ranging from 111 to 135 mph.
Lakeland Electric crews were still working Sunday to re-establish power to more than 20 homes that remained without electricity in a line that began in Winston and extended north to Kathleen. Estimated restoration of electricity in three specific impacted areas ranged from Sunday afternoon to Monday night. Initial reports after the tornado had 10,000 LE customers without power early Saturday morning.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office reported Sunday that all roads that were temporarily closed due to tree damage, downed power lines and power line repairs had been re-opened to traffic.
PCSO also had established a mobile command center at the Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, 3504 Mt. Tabor Road. Specifically assigned deputies patrolled the areas Sunday damaged by the tornado to assist residents and provide security. Deputies were originally assigned to the area overnight Saturday.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office Weekend Inmate work program spent Sunday focused on clean-up in the damaged areas with two crews of weekend work inmates being transported to the areas of Mt. Tabor Road and the neighborhood to the south, and the Kathleen Middle School area.
Bob Heist can be reached at 863-802-7500 or on Twitter @bheistledger.