The area around Pope John Paul II Regional School in West Brandywine, Chester County, was especially hard hit by the devastating ice storm early Wednesday, Feb. 5, which left most residents without electricity or heat, due to downed power lines.

As might be expected, classes were cancelled that day and the next, but the school still had a critical role to play for the community.

When the emergency became apparent, Immaculate Heart Sister Anne Maguire, the school’s principal, sent an e-mail and text message to the community advising them Pope John Paul’s gym had power and anyone who felt the need could come get warm, have some hot food and if they wished, stay the night in the gym.

Fortunately most people who did not have backup heat or electricity sources were able to stay with friends or relatives. It was a Godsend.

“We did have people coming in and out during the afternoon and 11 stayed all night,” Sister Anne said on Thursday. “We had one elderly man who said the temperature in his house was 35 degrees, and we had another guest who was on oxygen. We will be open tonight too, if people need it.”

The decision to open up the school for the emergency was not spur of the moment, but planned long in advance.

It was about a year and half ago that Doug Smith, who was West Brandywine’s crisis manager (now also township supervisor) called and asked Sister Anne if the school could be designated as an evacuation site in case of emergency, and the school readily agreed.

“We have a very good relationship between ourselves and the township,” Sister Anne said.

After inspection it was duly certified for this use as an emergency shelter, and the ice storm was its official baptism of fire.

Like everywhere else in the neighborhood, Pope John Paul II lost its power but it did have a backup generator to supply heat and light to the section of the building that included the gym.

Also, Sister Anne explained, “because it is an evacuation center, PECO made it a priority to get the power back on.”

“Everything went well,” said Keith Davis, a township employee who volunteered to stay the night with the people who came for shelter. “It was warm and everything was quiet.”

Those who stayed left Thursday morning, but with many people still without power, it was not decided if the school would still need to stay open for the night. But if it is needed now or in the future, it will be ready.

“We could have probably taken in 100 people,” Davis said.