RIDGECREST — Richmond Elementary School aboard Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake was in shambles Tuesday morning. Cracks were visible in the floors and ceilings. Books were strewn across the floor.

The sign above the gate to one of its entrances was missing an "O" from the word "school."

The water remained turned off until state agencies could evaluate it, and the school sustained electrical and mechanical disruptions.

According to Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Dave Ostash, inspectors from the California Division of the State Architect were there Tuesday to conduct evaluations.

“We don’t know yet the structural damages,” Ostash said. “The inspectors are making inspections inside and outside and most importantly to the foundation, walls and roofs.

The elementary school is the only campus left on base operated by Sierra Sands, and is one of its oldest. It serves around 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

With the school year slated to start Aug. 13, Ostash said the district hasn’t yet decided whether it will need to relocate students to other elementary schools.

Ostash noted that damage to a school such as Richmond differs from other school sites in the district.

“We have (Murray Middle School) which is two or three miles from here,” Ostash said. “It was built two years ago and there is almost no damage to it.”

Whether the school is ready to go or not, the district will need to find a solution by the time classes starts.

“We must be ready in six weeks, and one way or another we will be,” he said. “The plan is to open the school, but we will look at alternative solutions.”

Ostash called this week “critical” to determining the extent of the damage.

“By Friday, we should have a pretty thorough assessment by structural engineers, who will give us the guidance for what to do,” he said.

Since the school serves a large number of children of base personnel, he called it a critical asset to the Navy.

He added that some of the hardest losses come in the form of lost supplies and teaching materials.

“Teachers may have lost materials … we’ve had teachers who have worked here for 10 or 20 years and lost their content,” he said. “The community, as always, is supportive and we have put out requests for donated supplies.”

He added some of the materials lost could be supplemental lesson plans accumulated by teachers on their own over the years.

Ostash said that, in reflection, things might have been worse if the earthquake happened any time other than during the summer.

“If we had 5,000 students throughout the district in school like we would on any ordinary day, I don’t know what would have happened,” he said. “I’d like to think that nothing serious would have happened, but it could have. There could have been some moderate or serious injuries based upon textbooks, equipment or shelves falling. They’re heavy and could have fallen in such a way that people could be injured."

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