All that remains of Crestview Elementary and Middle schools are piles.
The iconic blue tiles, which were once laid near the top of the elementary school building, are littered throughout various piles.
There are school papers, errant doctor’s notes, and flash cards on the site, too.
They all serve as a reminder that, thanks to the March 31 EF-3 torando that destroyed the schools, things are changing on Mark Walker Jr. Drive.
“Our plan right now is for A2H, our architect group, to do their first presentation with our board at the November meeting,” said director of schools Dr. John Combs. “[The new schools] will basically going to be same basic footprint, basic and there’ll be a few little surprises we’re going to throw in there, but same basic footprint but upgraded.”
For the last couple of weeks, a crew has worked non-stop to tear down the damaged buildings and sort the rubble into piles of materials they will later recycle.
Combs said the company was the lowest bidder, coming in below $800,000. Another company bid more than $2 million.
“They have to have all this done by Nov. 15 and they’re rocking.”
Once demolition is completed, it will pave the way for new construction.
Combs said the new facilities will have new amentities. In addition to new safety features, like the required ballistic glass, they may also have safe rooms and an auditorium. None of Tipton County’s public schools currently has an auditorium.
“The goal is for [the auditorium] to be utilized for a lot of the schools, not just these two. For the schools that want to do a play or do some kind of a concert or something, they could do it there. So we’re looking at that to see how we can do that. It’s not in the original build, so it may be something we have to ask for additional funding for, but I really do think it’d be good.”
Many of the county’s schools, especially those built during the same time, look very similar to one another. The new schools will not.
“Our plan for Crestview Elementary and Crestview Middle is they will not look like any other school in Tipton County,” Combs said. “They’re going to be their own entity. They will look different. It’s not going to be red brick, green roof.”
In the meantime, the Crestview students and staff continue learning in interim facilities.
Combs said he doesn’t fight the “tents” nickname for the temporary structures in Cobb Parr Park anymore, instead he puts his energy into fighting the other issues that come up.
The noise levels in the schools was distracting from the learning process and none of the workarounds they attempted helped, so after fall break the middle school students moved up the hill on Bert Johnston Avenue to the Alternative Learning Center. Elementary classrooms have been moved around to help give everyone space and, hopefully, reduce the decibel level.
The 17 students who were at the ALC are now distance learning and, Combs said, staff is learning different ways to conduct virtual schooling. Should the need to do so every arise again, they will have a better plan in place.
And working with insurance companies, FEMA, and other emergency relief has taught them a thing or two as well. They’ve found out that their insurance didn’t cover everything they needed it to.
“Our insurance basically covers the buildings and the immediate vicinity of the building. Our insurance did not cover the soccer field. It did not cover the tree line along the soccer field. We’ve had this insurance policy basically since the crust of the Earth cooled … we didn’t know there were some things that it did not cover.”
Hunter Bennett, who handles facilities for the district, said it’s been a learning experience. He and Combs have been amongst the crews who have been working on things like cutting down the trees that used to shade the car rider lanes in front of the schools. They were also destroyed by the tornado and not covered.
When the sun rose on April 1, the day after the tornado, Combs visited the schools to survey the damage. Along with him were people in the construction industry who said they’d never seen a tornado damage structures the way it damaged the Crestview schools.
“The way it bent, like, just hit that fracture line, and they’ve never seen that. They were like, ‘Oh, my word!’”
Combs plans to have memorials constructed as part of the new schools as a way to honor the schools’ legacies and remember why the buildings were rebuilt.
“We were going to use the brick from each of the schools to build a podium-type structure that we put out front or in the front lobby, but Hunter and I went to a couple of schools that A2H has done in Memphis last week and we saw some cool ideas.”
Their plans are still in the works, but the overarching message is that district wants the schools to be better than ever before.
“Everybody’s going to be proud of them.”