It was a bright, sunny December morning, and Eddie Shiffler jammed to the Rolling Stones' Blue and Lonesome as he drove from Ocean City, N.J., to his job at Cherry Hill’s School of Rock.
As he arrived, he saw firefighters parked by the school. Leaving his car, Shiffler approached them smiling, not immediately realizing what was going on. One firefighter looked at Shiffler and told him news he could hardly believe: School of Rock was flooded.
One step inside the school was all it took to know the damage was unimaginable.
"It was like a waterfall coming down from the ceiling. About four inches of water everywhere," said Shiffler, the school’s general manager and concert program director.
Nestled off Route 70, School of Rock shares the Village Walk Shopping Center with a variety of other stores. Next door is Megu Sushi, and across from the school is Evolution Fitness Now.
Inside the school, two ceiling sprinkler pipes had burst, as well as a main water line, apparently because the school’s gas had been mistakenly turned off and the pipes had frozen. Ceilings collapsed and thousands of gallons of water spilled into the facility.
On Thursday, school owner Louis Faiola estimated that the damage to musical equipment exceeded $50,000. Repairing the multi-room complex will cost $20,000. To prevent mold, walls have had to be replaced.
Even so, Faiola expects to reopen the school Monday. The biggest loss in the nearly two months the school has been closed is in enrollment: Only about 30 students out of 75 have confirmed they will return.
The school must reopen because students need to practice for concerts Feb. 26 and March 5, he said. They will bring their own guitars.
Still, much work remained Thursday: The stage for the concert was strewn with damaged desks, chairs and other furniture. In many of the lesson rooms, there was no replacement carpet, just a bare concrete floor. Exhaust fans on the floor droned throughout the building.
Faiola said he assumes the students who are not returning are continuing lessons elsewhere.
In the school’s 10 years in Cherry Hill, Faiola estimated, 1,500 students have graduated, many of whom have pursued careers in music.
Faiola and Shiffler worry that the decreased enrollment will hurt the business in the long term.
The center’s eight staff members, including Shiffler, have been unemployed since the Dec. 17 flood.
Shiffler, 35, who is married with three children, ages 7, 5, and 3, said being without a job has been tough on his family, but he added that he was equally upset that his students have not been able to practice consistently.
Camille Kociuba, 11, a fifth grader at Mount Laurel’s Hartford School, said she can’t wait to return next week. "I miss my friends there and the amazing teachers," she said.
Her guitar and vocal lessons have helped her gain confidence and grow as a musician, her father, Gene, said.
Sheryl Charzewski's son, 15-year-old Riley Michlovsky, has been taking guitar lessons at the center for 2½ years. Michlovsky's musical abilities since coming to the center have increased two-fold, she said.
"I think if I went into the center now, I would just cry," she said, referring to the damage. "He's come such a long way since just plunking away in the basement."
Riley, a ninth grader at Shawnee High School, said he was strongly considering a career as a musician.
To help pay for the repairs, the school has started a GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/cherryhillSOR).