By Matt Donegan
FORT PIERCE - After being forced to close it due to destruction caused by the 2004 hurricanes, Lincoln Park Academy officially reopened its Zora Neale Hurston Media Center Oct. 17.
"It has been a long road for us, but we are back, updated, and ready to go," said LPA media specialist Beverly Thiess.
Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne caused severe roof damage and blew out all the center's windows and doors. Then vandals hit the school more than once. But it was the storms that followed the hurricanes that really put the nail in the coffin.
"I remember one period where it rained hard for five straight days," Mrs. Thiess said. "It was like a waterfall in my office."
The rain caused serious mold and destroyed nearly all of the books in the library, as well as ruined all of the center's remaining computers, equipment and furniture.
"We were devastated in here," Mrs. Thiess said.
Senior Sasha Dacosta described the aftermath as "gross," and said the water damage caused a bad smell in the library.
Ms. Dacosta was among the many volunteers who helped prepare the media center for its reopening. Now, after being closed for the entire 2004-2005 school year, it's open and better than ever, Mrs. Thiess said.
Stocked with 17,000 new books highlighting a collection of more than 20,000, the center also features 35 new computers, as well as several pieces of locally-inspired art, to include a 27-foot mural of the Indian River Lagoon.
It also contains an entire room honoring Zora Neale Hurston, complete with her books, a few personal items and a portrait. The library was dedicated to the late black author and former LPA substitute teacher in 1994. Ms. Hurston lived across from the street from the school during the final years of her life.
The Zora theme continues in the library foyer, where patrons can view her actual typewriter, which sits in an entryway designed to resemble an old Fort Pierce porch.
Principal Peggy Anderson called the new media center "phenomenal.
"I'm not sure how much the public realizes what the public schools have done to get themselves out from under the hurricanes," she said. "This is a big piece of it for Lincoln Park Academy. The library is the heart of the school."
With recovery from Frances and Jeanne, insurance companies dictated how the district would account for about $111 million in expenses. Rather than itemizing each project, the companies used a generic accounting approach. For this reason, the cost of the new media center cannot be pinpointed.