Jacksonville State leaders trying to find room for everybody

JACKSONVILLE, Ala.- Five months ago, a tornado ripped through Jacksonville State University, causing millions of dollars in damage.

Thankfully, nobody was killed, but homes and classrooms were destroyed, and school leaders decided to end the year early.

On Tuesday, classes resume on campus, but the rebuilding continues.

"It shows the character of the freshman class," JSU president John Beehler said. "They want to be here. They want to help rebuild."

Freshmen, teachers and campus leaders filed into the stadium for welcome week, just five months after a tornado blew through the town.

"Every building has fencing and scaffolding because we're trying to rebuild so fast," JSU student government association president Kasey Gamble said. "It looks so much better than it did in the beginning."

"The post-storm time. Getting back to a sense of normalcy after a time of disruption," JSU president of the faculty senate Patrick McGrail said.

This is the first few days back for the nearly 8,000 undergraduates at Jacksonville State. Many of them lost their homes, some didn't even return to salvage anything once school leaders ended the year early. That's why JSU leaders say they're excited for a fresh start.

"I think it's important that we have those events this year, more than ever, to make sure students understand this is going to be a normal school year," Gamble said.

President Beehler said that since the housing that was destroyed in the tornado isn't expected to be rebuilt until next year, they knew housing would be their biggest challenge this year. So, they brought in 22 modular homes, each one will house two students. He admits it's not a perfect fix, but says it's better than nothing.

"It's a short-term fix. Nobody likes to see mobile homes around the campus," Beehler said.

"We're just going to have to be creative and use the housing where it exists and help the students with that," McGrail said.

Students will head back to class on Tuesday. Beehler says the mobile homes aren't ready just yet. But he expects some students will commute until there's a spot ready on campus.

President Beehler asked Jacksonville's city council to relax the ordinance that caps how many students can live in an apartment or house so they could fit more kids in this year. But, city leaders did not act on that request.