Costly demolition, rebuild likely for West intermediate, high schools

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Posted: Monday, April 29, 2013 9:01 pm | Updated: 1:10 am, Tue Apr 30, 2013.

West Independent School District’s intermediate and high school campuses will have to be demolished, according to a Fort Worth architecture firm the school district hired to oversee the rebuilding of schools damaged by the April 17 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant.

West ISD school board members heard the report, prepared by Huckabee Associates Inc., at a board meeting Monday night.

Some parts of West Middle School also will have to be torn down, including an addition that houses the cafeteria, the practice gym and maintenance shop for the district’s school buses.

But the school district still may be able to bring all West students back to the city this fall, instead of continuing to transport half of its student body by bus to nearby Connally Independent School District.

Connally reopened its intermediate campus last week to accommodate West middle- and high-schoolers. West fifth- and sixth-graders were transferred to the elementary school with pre-kindergarten through fourth grade.

Huckabee Associates proposed demolishing the damaged facilities at the middle school and making repairs to its gym and main building, then adding temporary classroom and kitchen facilities to house the district’s sixth- through 
12th-grade students.

But the cost of that project, which would allow students to return to West when school restarts in August, could reach $15 million to 
$17 million, according to Superintendent Marty Crawford.

That also would cover small repairs to the elementary campus and demolishing the intermediate school to create parking areas for high school students.

“We’ve got to get our kids back in West,” Crawford said. “We are, of course, grateful to Connally for everything they’ve done, but these are West kids, and they want to go to school here.”

The second phase proposed by the architecture firm is building new middle and high school campuses at the site of the current high school on Jerry Mashek Drive, with the goal of opening the schools by August 2015. That project could top $80 million, Crawford said.

Crawford emphasized that the figures are preliminary and could change depending on more in-depth structural assessments of the damaged facilities.

The school district also still has not heard firm figures from insurance adjusters regarding the settlement it will receive for the damaged
campuses.

Adjusters have not been allowed access to the high school, for example, which currently serves as headquarters for law enforcement and state officials investigating the cause of the explosion.

“We do not know yet what funding may be available through insurance, or what other funding sources may be available, so it’s very early,” Crawford said. “We do know that we can’t go out for a bond election and we’re not going to go out for a bond election at this time.”

The intermediate school on North Reagan Street was the closest to the fertilizer plant and now has a collapsed roof, blown-out windows and a crumbling brick facade.

The original main building at the middle school on North Davis Street is 
mostly intact, but the gym will need new windows and frames, and the cafeteria features structural cracks.

The high school from the outside appears to have suffered minimal damage from the explosion, but Huckabee director of engineering Ben Harris showed the board photos of interior structural damage.

The ceiling of the gymnasium collapsed, and large cracks throughout the campus appear to be spreading open, indicating that the roof’s stability may be compromised.

“Driving around that building, you may say, ‘Let’s move back in,’” Harris said. “But the appearance of what something is is very different from its structural 
integrity.”

In other action, the board approved submitting an application to the Texas Education Agency requesting an attendance waiver for the two days after the explosion when the district canceled classes to develop an emergency plan to continue school for the rest of the year.

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