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Jeff Owens, Marseilles Elementary School prinicpal/athletic director and the director of the Marseilles Holiday Tournament, showcases the new gym. The floor was ruined when it housed two inches of standing water from the Illinois River floods in April. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
MARSEILLES — Jeff Owens sat in his office late last week, a lot less stressed and far more certain.
After eight trying months, Owens — the principal/athletic director at Marseilles Elementary School and the tournament director of the Marseilles Holiday Tournament — wasn’t always so confident tonight would come.
Tonight is the seeding meeting for the fifth-annual Marseilles Holiday Tournament, which was put in jeopardy by last spring’s flood.
On April 18, Marseilles received nearly five inches of rain, which caused the Illinois River — located a mere 200 or so yards from the school — to rise and flood, which was worsened when a barge located in the town hit and broke a flood wall.
The flood reached the lower levels of the school, including the gym floor, which had two inches of standing water resting upon it for two days.
After the waters receded and the summer heat came, the floor bowed and increased the need for a new gym floor.
It also raised concerns whether the gym — which received other upgrades as well — would be ready in time for this year’s four-day tournament, which starts Dec. 26 and concludes Dec. 30.
“There were a lot of days and nights of thinking, ‘Are we going to be able to do this?’” Owens said. “Some schools called and offered to help us out through it. (Marquette AD) Todd Hopkins and I are good friends, but we had a yelling match one night. He was saying, ‘Our name is on it. We’re doing it at Marquette (if Marseilles wasn’t ready). We’re doing it at Marquette.’”
In total, the school suffered $5.6-6 million of damages, most all of which was paid for by insurance — minus the school’s $800K deductible.
The flood caused Marseilles to cancel school for nine days and forced the district to find alternate locations for schooling the rest of the year.
Reconstruction of the school started in mid-August, but much of the talk of the town centered around the repair of the gym.
“It’s a focal point for this town,” Owens said. “I think people take great pride in showing off the city, the school and the nice facility that we have. We are giving people in town high school sports that they don’t have. They can come and watch the game, and you start to see the same people. You look forward to seeing the same people every year.”
The refurbished gym features a new wood floor with a modern design as well as overhead heating compared to the old-school under-the-floor heating system that was damaged by the flood.
The locker rooms, lobby area and concession stand were all redone, and a plaque noting how high flood waters rose was placed on the front of the tiling of the ticket windows.
“It happened in April, so in May and June I was nervous,” Owens said. “I started scratching my head in May because we weren’t going to start reconstruction until August - basically when school started - so I was like, ‘Oh, jeez’ because I wanted to have (the tournament) in December.”
The gym received a temporary building occupancy permit last Thursday and held its first event Friday.
In doing so, the school took another step in recovering from the flood - which is still impacting families in Marseilles - and made tonight’s seeding meeting that much more special and meaningful for Owens.
“I was thinking about it the other day, how I will probably get a little emotional,” Owens said. “I will probably be emotional just for all the sweat and worrying that I did, for all the grey hairs that I got and for all the arguments that we had. Just getting everything laid out has been a lot of work by everybody, and everyone has worked together and said, ‘We’ve got to do this. We can do this.’”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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