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Historic Delmont school building damaged by high winds

Building survived Mother’s Day tornado in 2015

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Amanda Sorensen helps with cleanup at the historic Delmont Public School building in Delmont Tuesday afternoon, June 21.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic
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DELMONT, S.D. — It’s already been a summer of storms that have brought damage to communities throughout the region.

Monday evening was no different, when high winds whipped through the community of Delmont, where trees were uprooted, shingles ripped off of roofs and tree branches knocked down throughout the community.

The winds also damaged the historic Delmont Public School school building. The building, constructed in 1923, is approaching 100 years old and is a survivor of the 2015 Mother’s Day tornado that struck the community, wiping half of it off the map.

Amanda Sorensen, whose parents David and Lynn Chambers purchased the building and used it as part of an auction business, was on site at the school Tuesday afternoon helping with cleanup from the damage.

“The whole rubber top part (of the roof) came off. It’s all bad,” Sorensen said. “Bricks came down, but we’re cleaning that up now around the whole thing. We’re just asking everyone to stay away from the doors because at the top there are still some bricks coming down.”

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The damage is a result of high winds that made their way through the community Monday night. Pat Harrington, emergency manager for Douglas County, said his home wind anemometer south of Armour registered gusts as high as 54 miles per hour, but he said wind speeds could have easily topped that elsewhere around the county.

The storm Monday night was nothing compared to the 2015 Mother’s Day tornado, he said, and the community missed most of the derecho that blew through the region in May. In terms of overall damage, it could have been a lot worse.

“Knock on wood. When that May 12 (derecho) went through, we were actually on the western edge of that, though we did have some damage in the county,” Harrington said. “But so far we’ve been dodging a bullet.”

Oddly enough, the historic school building suffered less damage during the 2015 tornado than it did during Monday night’s storm.

Lynn Chambers said she and her husband David purchased the building in 2006 in an effort to preserve it and use it as a home base of operations for their auction business. Having already stood for the better part of a century, the building had likely endured its fair share of wind storms over the years.

But this latest storm, for some reason, delivered the most damage.

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The historic Delmont Public School building, built in 1921, was damaged in high winds Monday evening, June 20.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

“It’s becoming kind of a thing that we're getting used to. This is actually the third time (it’s been damaged) since we have owned it, and this was probably the worst damage that it’s taken out of all of them,” Chambers said. “On the tornado, we had tree branches go through the roof, but it only had minor damage. I was thrilled to pieces. There was barely any damage.”

Another storm blew through just shortly after David died in 2019, just while Lynn was working on preparations for the funeral. The storm again battered the building with tree branches and opened up holes in the roof.

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The family has worked to keep up with repairs ever since.

“We’ve been dealing with patching and patching ever since. It’s been a nightmare, but we’re trying to hold on to it. We have a hard time just letting it go,” Chambers said.

She has found some light in the darkness, however. While she said the family can’t keep up with insurance and tax costs now that her husband is gone, she has been looking at finding an interested buyer with a preservationist streak similar to her husband’s.

She’s had some success. At least one engineer has looked at the building and declared it solid. Chambers said the brick facade, though bricks have been dislodged and fallen from it during the storms, is only the outermost portion of the exterior. The interior of the walls are concrete and measure two-feet thick.

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High winds tore rubber roofing material off the the historic Delmont Public School building Monday evening, June 20.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

The building has good bones. Now it just needs a buyer. She said about six interested parties have approached her about buying it, including a California couple who seem like a promising candidate to take over the work.

“They’re thinking about buying it in November. It’s actually extremely solid, and we have been blessed and fortunate that it has stayed strong,” Chambers said.

Chambers is even seeing a bright spot in the latest storm damage. Prior to the storm, she contacted a roofing contractor about repairing the roof. The estimate for a quick patch job came in at around $5,000 and a full replacement was estimated at closer to $50,000. The full replacement estimate was higher because of the intensive work it would take to remove the materials off the old roof.

That is no longer an obstacle, Chambers said.

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The historic Delmont Public School building was damaged in high winds Monday evening, June 20.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

“If there’s a positive, God just took all that off,” Chambers said with a chuckle.

Sorensen was sweeping and helping members of her family tidy up around the building and reflected on how much the building meant to her dad. She said she was sad to see the damage, but she knew the building could be saved.

Having survived three serious storms in 16 years, she knew it would take more than a little wind to knock it down.

“If it can survive the Mother’s Day tornado, and that was horrible, and then this, then it can survive anything,” Sorensen said.

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Tree damage could be seen around Delmont following the Monday, June 20 storm that brought high winds to the community. The winds also damaged the historic Delmont Public School building.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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