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Palm Beach Post (Florida)


A tornado that struck Palm Beach Gardens in the early morning hours of Jan. 23 devastated parts of the Benjamin School campus.

Nearly seven months later, the school continues to repair the damage.

At the football stadium, where winds of up to 90 mph ripped up bleachers, toppled a light pole, crumpled the press box and tore chunks out of the track, work is underway to put the structure back together.

Construction crews are replacing the light pole, turf, bleachers, press box, scoreboard and most of the fencing, Athletic Director Ryan Smith said.

The school's tennis facility, which also was damaged in the storm, already has been repaired.

Work at the stadium began earlier this summer, and school officials had hoped to have it completed in time for today's home Kickoff Classic preseason game against Jensen Beach.

But the stadium won't be ready until at least Sept. 1, barring any significant weather issues. The Bucs have a road game on that date, but host Miami-Immaculata-LaSalle the following week.

Benjamin will play its Kickoff Classic game at the school's lower/middle school campus in North Palm Beach. Kickoff is at 5 p.m.

Once repairs to the stadium are complete, the Bucs will be able to hold their first practice there since the 2016 season concluded.

Benjamin finished 7-3 last year in Southeastern Football Conference play and advanced to the semifinals of the league's postseason tournament.

This season the Bucs will participate in Florida High School Athletic Association state series competition, and have been grouped in Class 3A.

"Everyone has been cooperative in restoring the facilities," Benjamin coach Ron Ream said.

"Ryan Smith ... has been on top of things since day one. He has really been the one instrumental in keeping things moving in the right direction."

January's tornado, which also damaged parts of Dwyer High School's campus, affected much of Benjamin's spring sports schedule.

The Bucs' boys and girls lacrosse teams had to play their home games off-campus, as did the school's tennis teams. Benjamin's track teams also were affected, while the football team held its spring — and fall — practice sessions on nearby grass fields.

"The damages to our football field have definitely made an impact on our team," senior lineman Martin Weisz said. "That is the field on which we usually do all of our drills and all of our outdoor workouts, but now we must resort to the other fields surrounding it.

"We are very fortunate that our school is fixing this situation, and that we will have our field ready by our first game."

The cost to repair the stadium is expected to exceed $1 million, Smith said. The school is working with its insurance company to determine what will be covered under its policy.

In the meantime, any additional construction projects will continue.

"It's been a long process with us losing the entire spring sports season on the field and the entire summer," Smith said. "We are very much looking forward to getting back on our field, and things getting back to normal." Twitter: @JRWagner5

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