Ben Martin Elementary rebuild ahead of schedule


Tuesday school officials gave ABC11 Eyewitness News an exclusive tour of the school.

From the outside, Ben Martin Elementary looks the same. Take a walk inside and down the hallways into classrooms and you see a miraculous recovery.

"Originally, based on the damage, we thought we would be back around December, but we have revised our completion date to October and we are working to improve that date," Assistant Superintendent Tim Kinlaw said.

The tornadoes tore off the roof of the school, leaving what many say looked like a bomb exploded. Officials quickly made planes to move the 600 kindergarten through fifth grade students to other schools.

"We were in here by 11 p.m.," Kinlaw said. "We were moving furniture and electronics."

He says much of the damage was caused by the wind. One wing of the building took the brunt of the storm. In the D Wing, parts of walls crumbled and had to be rebuilt. Just about every window in the school was broken by flying debris.

Kinlaw says if the tornado had hit on a school day, there would have been children in the building. Many would have been in the cafeteria where huge iron beams held up but new steel sheet now replaces an old roof that was blown away.

The repair job is monumental.

"All the windows have to be replaced, the ceilings, the ceiling grids, lighting, all the carpeting, and structural ceiling," Kinlaw explained.

He attributes the fast work to the contractor, who he said quickly removed debris and began repairs. School officials estimate damage around $3.5 million, but Kinlaw says compared to what might have happened that's not so much.

"Nobody was hurt, no one injured," he said. "Any building can be replaced, so we are just glad. That is our number one factor, and the school will be better than prior to the storm."

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