Destruction of condemned buildings in the West Independent School District began Monday with the demolition of the transportation facility on the West Middle School campus.
A large yellow excavator scraped together the remnants of the building Monday morning. Before the fertilizer plant explosion April 17, the facility was used to house and service West ISD school buses.
Its demolition marks the beginning of the rebuilding and repairing of West ISD structures.
Demolition crews will work from the north end of the school, where the transportation facility sits, to the south end, said Kevin Byrd, vice president of operations for the Central Texas office of Bartlett Cocke general contractors.
The middle school mostly will be salvaged, but the cafeteria, maintenance facility and storage space, along with the transportation facility, will be torn down. It eventually will be converted into administrative offices.
The middle school gym walls will be knocked down, but the floor will be salvaged. A tent will be erected above the floor to create a practice gym for the dance team, cheerleaders, basketball and volleyball teams, among other school organizations, Superintendent Marty Crawford said.
“We had a big concern about hundreds of schoolchildren only having one large facility for physical education,” Crawford said. “The old middle school gym will relieve some of the tension.”
Clearing out the damaged structures will make way for about 50 portable buildings to house middle and high school students for the upcoming school year. This “portable village” will include classrooms and a cafeteria for the students.
Crawford said he wanted to avoid busing children to Connally schools for another semester because of safety concerns about Interstate 35.
“The current condition with the tractor-trailer traffic, speed and construction is something we don’t want to fight with,” he said. “We were pleased we had no accidents in the six weeks that we were sending 650 kids to Connally, but safety is priority No. 1.”
Crawford also cited putting teachers to work and keeping tax dollars in the city as other reasons school administrators want to bring students back to West as quickly as possible.
Right now, most of Bartlett Cocke’s energy and resources are devoted to getting the portable buildings in place, Byrd said.
Afterward, the details of new intermediate and high school structures will be solidified, he said.
The intermediate school will be torn down in about three weeks, after the middle school structures have been razed, he said. The high school demolition date has not been set.
Byrd said the number of funding sources for the project creates a unique challenge for the company. Since funding is coming from insurance, FEMA and possibly the state, extra care must be taken in record keeping.
“It’s under severe scrutiny,” he said. “It’s not a normal project in that respect.”
Kirk Kistner, vice president of marketing and business development at Bartlett Cocke, said the company aims to have all construction completed in time for the 2015 school year.
“It’s a lot to do,” Kistner said. “It’s a challenge.”