Small tornado wreaks sizeable damage

Andrew Rosenthal, Spread Editor

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Even though the tornado that passed through Grayslake Aug. 2 was declared a relatively low-ranking EF-1, the damages to GCHS property were extensive. It was the first tornado on record to ever touch down in the history of Grayslake, and the first tornado in Lake County in 13 years.
It is currently estimated that the cost to GCHS was between $400,000 and $500,000 due to the loss of the band roof and damage to rooftop air conditioning units and exhaust fans. In addition, the football field’s visitor bleachers put a hole in the woods classroom, a gas line was broken, and all windows in the guidance offices were either damaged or shattered. The wreckage in the courtyard was due to the blast of the roof, which flew up into the air and then struck the windows.
The most noticeable damages were to the varsity baseball field and track equipment. The visitor dugouts, the batting cages, the roof of the press box, and part of the third base fence line were all damaged. All baseball fences collapsed. Additional athletic equipment was broken, including the pole vaulting equipment and visitor bleachers.
According to Ron Kay, the District Supervisor for Facilities and Grounds, insurance claims started to go out that evening. Much of the quick response was thanks to a professional disaster management company led by Chris Campbell. The disaster team was able to assess the damage hours after the tornado to have repair teams ready the next morning.
“I gave [Campbell] a call and within two hours, their team was on the roof,” Associate Superintendent Mike Zelek said. “They were able to figure out where the damage was and who was needed to come out and fix it.”
From the start, when the administrative members met at the Grayslake Fire Department, the district set a goal that they would do all they could to make sure the school opened as scheduled. The institutional spaces and major damages were prioritized to create the safest environment possible when students returned to classes.
“At that point, we weren’t even considering delaying the start of school,” said Zelek. “We were constantly reviewing the building codes and engineering plans to make for the most swift process.”
The other challenge was making sure the stadium was ready for football’s green and white scrimmage. In addition, the visitors bleachers needed to be put back in place for the first home game against Jacobs High School.
“We had the home bleachers, the stadium lighting poles, and all communication towers inspected as a precaution to ensure safety,” Zelek said.
However, repairs to the baseball field may require a longer process of rearranging the field and replacing the dugout.
“The dugouts may need to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) since they were constructed in the 1960s,” Zelek said. “We are waiting to hear back from the Attorney General.”
The same question came up when the district was renovating the softball dugouts. They could not construct true underground dugouts because they did not comply with the ADA.
“Discussions are still up in the air about the dugouts,” baseball head coach Troy Whalen said. “I think everyone will be happy with the final outcome when they see the dugouts in the spring.”
As the disaster team investigates the situation, they are getting a better idea of exactly what happened. According to Kay, a surveillance camera was able to catch the whole event on video. One can see the soccer goals move slowly, and then as soon as the tornado hits, everything starts to fly in the air and throw the pole vaulting equipment into the storm. Another video looks at the College and Career Center in which one can see the shattering of the windows and inside damage.
“Our understanding is [that] the tornado bounced over the high school,” Zelek said. “[The situation] could’ve been much worse if it had taken a direct hit.”
The district is proud that it was able to open the school as scheduled, a feat made possible greatly by team effort.
“Everybody worked well together, all with the goal of opening on time,” Kay said. “Our experienced administrators were able to make that possible.”

  • The Grayslake Tornado caused approximately $500 thousand in damage to GCHS

Photos courtosey of Ron Kay

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Small tornado wreaks sizeable damage