Cleanup begins at Union Grove School hit by tornado

Northeast Alabama
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MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. – There’ll be no school this week for kids at Brindlee Mountain schools after an EF-2 tornado ripped apart the elementary school in Union Grove on Saturday. The powerful storm destroyed the cafeteria and eight classrooms.

Monday afternoon looked like moving day. Teachers and volunteers were loading up cars and trailers with classroom supplies that weren’t destroyed.

“The pictures don’t do it justice. Going inside and seeing it is devastating,” Brindlee Mountain primary teacher Debbie Raney said.

Teachers at Brindlee Mountain say it’ll take a few days to box up the supplies from their classrooms to move into the new temporary classrooms. The brunt of the damage happened in the kindergarten and first grade rooms.

“The first-grade teachers and Kindergarten teachers don’t have classrooms left. It looks like a war zone,” Raney said.

Mangled pieces of metal, scattered classroom walls and supplies, and bricks almost knee-deep could be seen at the school Monday.

“This is our family. This isn’t just school. It isn’t just work,” said second-grade teacher Tina Monroe.

Monroe attended Brindlee Mountain Primary School as a child.

Now, she and dozens of others are trying to salvage what they can after the twister ripped through.

“Everybody, of course, is heartbroken and very sad but I’m proud of my faculty, the way they’ve pulled together,” said Brindlee Mountain Primary School principal Terry Allen.

Some of the classrooms, like Monroe’s in the main building, were untouched, but some kindergarten and first grade rooms, were not as lucky.

“We spend more hours here than we probably do at our own homes. We are family and to see the destruction and worry and not see our children coming to us each day. It’s heart-wrenching,” said Monroe through tears.

“People say ‘What do you need’ and the answer is everything. When you start trying to make a list of all the items that you need, it’s simply overwhelming,” added Allen.

Allen said many pieces of technology, including computers and iPads, were also damaged by the tornado.

The employees who spoke with WHNT News 19 vow to come back better than ever thanks to the strong support from community members across the country.

“A Missouri school touched base with us that had went through a tornado. they are collecting books for our classrooms,” said Monroe.

On Monday, the Marshall County Board of Education declared an emergency, calling off classes for the week, moving around 250 kids and their teachers into the nearby middle school. The declaration will also allow them to speed up the process by bypassing the bid law.

Superintendent Dr. Cindy Wigley hopes they can skip modulars and start construction and renovation quickly.

“We’re hoping to minimize downtime by not bringing in modulars. That’s our effort to get our children back in school as soon as possible and in a safe environment and that’s why we want them in a regular classroom and not use our modular, so we’re having anywhere from one to three-months-time by doing that,” said Wigley.

Wigley said it could take about a year to renovate the elementary school. She says the building was insured.

“The building was built in 1977, so the cost of building a building now versus from 1977 will be quite different,” explained Wigley.

Wigley said there are workers accessing the damage to figure out how much renovation and construction might cost.

She added that per state regulations, each school built now must have some sort of storm shelter or addition to house the students in case of severe weather.

She told WHNT News 19 that most, if not all, of the primary schoolers will be moved into building two at Brindlee Mountain High School hopefully by January 20, 2020.

Wigley said during the special meeting that moving the Pre-K through second graders into that building should have no impact on the high schoolers.

She told WHNT News 19 that breakfast would be served in their classrooms and that they would go to lunch before the high schoolers.

Building two at the high school currently hosts classes such as art, driver’s education, math, and In-School Suspension.

Those classes will be moved to open lab areas.

Two school buses were also damaged by the storm, but because there are extra buses in the school’s fleet, it will not affect the daily bus routes.

Various area churches are providing lunch for those cleaning up each day.

Wigley and other members of the Board of Education thanked everyone for their donations of money, supplies, and time, including the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, for monitoring the damaged school each night.

Monetary donations for the school can be made at Citizens Bank and Trust. There are eight locations across North Alabama.

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