Water damage leaves RM gymnasium out of commission

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Andy Kostka

Winter Storm Jonas and its 30 inches of snow not only canceled MCPS schools for a week, it also closed Richard Montgomery High School’s main gymnasium for the foreseeable future. The melting snow on top of the flat gym roof leaked into RM’s gym and warped the wood playing surface in two places.

MCPS contractors will arrive this week to identify the exact location of the leak, and efforts are already underway to repair the gym’s playing surface.

“When water sits on wood, it soaks it up and then it expands. And when it expands, there’s no room for it to expand, so the wood just rose. It either warps or it bubbles up,” RM athletic director Chamy Wijeratne said.

Part of RM’s wooden floor warped while another part of the floor bubbled up. MCPS employees have applied heated blankets that absorb the moisture, and dry the wood. Certain parts of the floor were irreparable and will be cut out and replaced, the athletic director further explained. The recovery period has been estimated to last for three weeks.

Photo by Tide photographer Kevin Pan

Winter sports teams at RM will not be able to use the gym during the rehabilitation process. Wrestling, cheerleading, and POMs all cannot compete at home. For the varsity basketball teams, all games have been moved to the away high schools until the gym is done, which depends on how long it takes the moisture to leave the wood. JV basketball games at RM have simply been canceled.

“Everyone is trying to get it done as soon as possible, but we also want it done correctly so it’s safe for our athletes and students to play on. Safety is the [greatest] concern for us, and we are trying to get it done before playoffs,” which are still scheduled to begin late in the week of February 22, Wijeratne said.

RM boys varsity basketball leads Class 4A/3A South with a 10-3 record.  The Rockets will earn a home playoff game should they maintain their division standing – and if the gym is ready to host.

Photo by Tide photographer Kevin Pan

“It kills us because we actually have a wrestling program and basketball program that are doing so great this year. They’re winning a lot of games and they have a lot of fan support coming to these games,” Wijeratne said. “It kills our home court advantage because our players strive off our fans. We don’t necessarily get that many fans at away games and our home fans are amazing.”

Depending on the length of the gym’s recovery, the leaking could also affect spring sports. “It also cuts into our practice time. We went from having two courts, to one court,” Wijeratne said. “Volleyball is starting in a month, which may also hurt baseball, softball, and some other spring sports, because if there is snow on the ground, those spring teams will have to practice inside. It limits the gym usage.”

Photo by Tide photographer Kevin Pan

Senior Night games are now in question as to when they will be held. The gym looks unlikely to be completed by February 12, the original Senior Night game against Whitman. Ideas for when to hold Senior Night include waiting until a home playoff game, or to hold the event at an away game during the season. “Our seniors have done a lot for this program and for the school so I want them to be honored,” Wijeratne said.

For senior Daniel Alexander, the focus is more on playing good basketball than it is of a home court advantage or Senior Night. “It does suck that we can’t play at home, but regardless, we are still a team and we are going to play as a team wherever we go.”

Photo by Tide photographer Kevin Pan

The warping of the gym floor is inopportune in another way, because without home basketball games, funding is lost. “Financially, it hurts because we lose gate receipts, and Post Prom doesn’t make money on concession sales,” Booster Club President Steve Schuck said. The Post Prom committee runs the winter concession stand at every home game to generate funds for Post Prom, a safe way to end Prom night in May, and the athletic department loses out on income from ticket sales.

Missing a week’s worth of class time was not the only casualty from Winter Storm Jonas. As more information becomes available, The Tide will update on the gym’s condition.