By Jo Anne Embleton
Three months after tornadoes devastated the area, around-the-clock recovery efforts at Alto ISD are resulting in a safer environment for students returning to campus Aug. 19.
“Although it may not appear visible externally, the work on this recovery effort has been around-the-clock since the night of April 13. As the funding becomes available, more visible progress will begin to be seen,” Alto ISD Superintendent Kelly West said in a statement posted recently on the district's Facebook page.
She noted that immediately after the April 13 storm – in which one of three tornadoes destroyed structures at the elementary and high school campuses – district officials learned that it could take two years for an evaluation process to be completed, a timeline she called “very accurate.”
“We continue to wait on insurance approval before beginning work due to the magnitude of our claim,” she explained, adding that in “dealing with taxpayer funds, it is not in the district’s best interest to gamble with our savings in hopes that insurance will reimburse the district. It is best practice to wait for insurance approval before tackling projects of this size. The district is facing a minimum of a $10 million dollar claim and insurance is very selective about the process they follow before payment and work can begin.”
Possibly the biggest single project involves the existing high school, which was damaged by the tornado. District officials are to hear back from the insurance company before deciding “how to best proceed” – to repair or to demolish, West said.
In the meantime, Alto ISD has been “moving in a forward direction” in the meantime, completing initial phases of cleanup and preparation, she said.
Completed work includes approximately $3 million in clean-up, sanitization and state clearances, including:
• Clean-up of damaged classrooms on three campuses and outlying buildings
• Water mitigation
• Drying and air quality testing – no mold, mildew, or contaminants in buildings
• Repair and cleaning of all existing HVAC and duct work to ensure clean air for students and staff
• Removal of all remaining asbestos from district buildings
• Testing of all electrical wiring to ensure safety after water damage
Additionally, portable buildings have been acquired to supplement classroom space for the high school program, at a cost of $41,500, which includes transport and stabilization of the structures, and $300,000 has been invested in technology.
• Relocation of district technology hub from damaged location in high school
• Installation of new fiber runs
• Tying in portable campus to network
• Cleaning and restoration of damaged computers, electronics and projectors
West said that while the district has not yet received invoices for services, strides also have been made in the areas of architect design and engineering “required by the state to ensure the safety of all students.”
• Designs of all gas, electric, and water lines for portable campus
• Designs of ramping system for ADA compliance for portable campus
• Designs submitted for a temporary elementary gym
• Designs submitted for all new roofing for district buildings
Meanwhile, AISD awaits approval from the district's insurer to collect/submit repair and rebuilding estimates. Estimated amounts provided by the district include:
• Roofing for all district buildings (estimated $2.1 million)
• Fencing – replacing all damaged areas (more than $100,000)
• Lighting – football, softball, baseball (more than $200,000)
• Scoreboards – football, softball, baseball, basketball (approximately $75,000)
• Bleachers – football, high school gym, elementary gym (more than $300,000)
• Track (approximately $400,000)
• Marquee (approximately $25,000)
Estimates are still in progress for: Band hall, cafeteria, high school gym, library, classrooms in math wing of high school, middle school and elementary school – repair damages, flooring, ceiling, paint, furniture; installation of water, gas, electric and sewer to portable campus; renovation of portable buildings - painting, flooring, ramps, furniture; and a temporary elementary gym, West noted.
The status of a baseball press box and concession stand will be address by district leaders this fall, she said.
“While that movement is not as quick as we would like for it to be, it will happen,” West assured local residents. “We will have a safe place for our children (when school begins) on Aug. 19. It may not be the most ideal situation, but we will make the most of these terrible circumstances to the best of our ability.”
Local school leaders “knew the rebuilding process would be a lengthy one” following the storms, and “appreciate the community’s patience during the last three months … (we) appreciate everyone’s patience and trust. We will not rest until AISD is repaired,” she said.