Avant enjoys the sparkle of glossy new gym floor

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

AVANT -- This community's recovery from destructive flooding in May 2019 continues, and will likely take years more of coordinated effort. Some families are still displaced because of the flooding, and new hardships keep coming.

With the added stress of coping with COVID-19, many Osage County residents have little time to think about the losses their neighbors endure because of flooding a year and a half ago.

In the midst of the anxiety, the recent installation of a fresh, maple-wood gym floor at Avant School might not seem like much. That is, unless you're a seventh-grade girl dreaming of playing on a state championship basketball team.

"This group has changed a lot of minds about Avant," basketball coach Sean Holcomb says, as he watches the kids who play for him practice their shots and their defensive moves. His girls want to win a championship, he said. They've played for him for years and they know their drills.

In addition to the enthusiasm of junior high school basketball players, there is the joy of small children taking physical education on the new floor, and the happiness of elderly community members with ties to the school.

In the overall scheme of things, it's just one more improvement that needed to be made.

Superintendent Mindy Englett, who teaches and drives buses and worries about the details associated with stopping COVID-19 and still finds time to study for her doctorate, points out that Stage 4 mold had been found under the old gym floor. It had to go.

"It's huge," Englett says of installation of floor, but she explains that, "it's not that we wanted a new floor. We wouldn't be having this conversation if it wasn't for the flood."

In other words, it would have been so much less problematic and stressful to just not have been flooded out; to just not have seen almost everything around them damaged or ruined in some way.

Englett said the U.S. government is covering 75% of the cost of repairs to the gym as a whole, but that leaves some $95,000 (including $19,707.58 toward the cost of the new floor) for the school district to pay (its 25%). The school district's total annual budget is roughly $900,000, she said. And there will be additional costs to be borne locally in connection with remodeling and repairs for the rest of the school. That remodeling and repair process is complicated by the fact that the school is an historic building, she said.

But Avant has hope, and the joy of its residents in celebrating the new gym floor at the school, which is in many ways the heart of the community. Avant, population about 300, has energy and drive -- like a junior high girl in a community nearly swept away by a 500-year flood who wants to win a championship.

"We have the most amazing group of families and kids," Englett said. "We are like family."