Storm damages Florence businesses, tears off section of Smith Voc. roof

  • High winds caused structural damage to the outdoor dining pavilion at Miss Florence Diner and JJ’s Tavern at 99 Main St. in Florence on May 22, 2022, less than a mile down the road from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School on Locust Street in Northampton, where the wind tore off a section of roof. Here, the pavilion can be seen leaning to the left; new temporary structural supports are in place to hold it up and the area is closed to the public. STAFF PHOTO/BRIAN STEELE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/23/2022 2:42:50 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Classes were held at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School on Monday even though high winds tore off a section of an academic and shop building’s roof the night before.

The storm also caused structural damage to the outdoor dining pavilion at Miss Florence Diner and JJ’s Tavern at 99 Main St. in Florence, less than a mile down the road from Smith Vocational on Locust Street in Northampton.

The affected school building is used for electrical, carpentry and manufacturing shops, and some classroom instruction. The city building inspector ordered it to remain closed until repairs are complete; school staff quickly set up classrooms and shops at temporary locations in other buildings, including the cafeteria and library.

“One corner of the roof got picked up and that is going to need to be repaired,” Michael Cahillane, chairman of the Smith Vocational Board of Trustees, said. The inspector ordered it closed “out of caution” because water was coming into the building.

Cahillane said the damage is “just a major inconvenience” and that the goal was to complete the repairs by the end of the week or next Monday at the latest.

“We’ll get it turned around in a few days,” he said, adding that about half of the students who use the building are working at their offsite co-op assignments at this time of year.

Joe Cook, the city’s chief procurement officer, said he applied to the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance for permission to make emergency repairs worth $20,000 to 30,000 without going out to bid.

“We expect to have people on the roof tomorrow, fixing it,” Cook said on Monday.

Northampton Fire Rescue responded to 19 calls within two hours during severe thunderstorms on Sunday night, according to a department Facebook post. National Grid crews worked to repair power lines and clear fallen trees in the city.

“It was all trees down, wires down,” Northampton Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Andrew Pelis said. "A couple of them were arcing, but the electric company came in and shut them down.”

Pelis said calls started coming in around 7:20 p.m. and National Grid crews had finished their work about four hours later.

Damage at Miss Flo’s, JJ’s

Miss Florence Diner owner Georgianna Brunton said the pavilion is insured “thank God,” and repairs will begin soon. She and JJ’s Tavern owner Jon Neumann share the pavilion for their outdoor diners and they have lost the space before under similar circumstances.

“John and I lost our first tent, prior to the pavilion. We lost that one, oddly enough, in a microburst. That one ended up on JJ’s roof,” Brunton said. “When a storm would come, one of us would be panicking. We’d just have that stress of, ‘What could happen?’”

They built the pavilion last year amid the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We both heavily rely on that space for business. … We both have staff that relies on it,” Brunton said. “It hurts, but we’re both very thankful that it was at night and there was no one under the pavilion at the time, and no one was injured.”

Brunton promised to “come back bigger and better.”

Evelyn Maria Sanchez, an 18-year resident of Northampton, spoke to a reporter outside the pavilion on Monday morning. She said she had heard reports of the damage on the news and wanted to see it for herself.

“It’s very sad because it’s a historic neighborhood place that we all go to, and we’ve been trying to support the place during COVID,” Sanchez said. “For two-and-a-half years, they had hardship. They have built up that pavilion to make up for the loss of not being able to eat inside, and now they have this damage.”

Sanchez and a friend had gone to Smith Vocational to view the roof, as well.

“That’s really bad damage. That is intense,” Sanchez said.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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