Mansfield helps West go back to school

Posted Monday, Sep. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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When the 1,450 students of the West school district returned in August after a devastating fertilizer plant explosion, they found a complex of portable buildings that had Mansfield’s fingerprints all over it.

The Mansfield school district loaned five two-classroom buildings, while Mansfield-based Ramtech Building Systems constructed 17 temporary buildings that include space for administrative offices for the high school and middle school, which were destroyed along with the intermediate school.

The explosion occurred April 17 during a fire at the West Fertilizer plant in the city of nearly 2,900 people, 60 miles south of Mansfield. It killed 15 people, most of them first responders to the initial fire call.

Only the elementary school remained intact. About 600 students in grades seventh through 12th grades finished the school year in a classroom building in the Connally school district, north of Waco.

Mansfield’s portables came from Glenn Harmon Elementary School, which is scheduled to be demolished and rebuilt and won’t need them anymore.

“We were preparing to either sell or move portable buildings,” said Jeff Brogden, assistant superintendent of construction services. “So since there wasn’t an immediate need for them, it made perfect sense to help out our neighbor.”

Charles Mikeska, the West school district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said he and the district have been overwhelmed by the charity of Mansfield and other school districts, including Grand Prairie and Northwest, which accounted for 15 to 20 portable classroom buildings. In addition, nearly $900,000 in cash donations poured in from all directions, he said.

“It’s been a whole lot,” he said. “Tons of other school districts immediately responded with help and donations. I never dreamed in my wildest imagination we would have received that many donations.”

Ramtech, a 32-year resident of Mansfield, is getting federal funding for its work. The company built three 10-classroom wings, more than 9,700 square feet each, and four computer/science labs, a 7,550-square-foot cafeteria building, a 4,400-square-foot administration office for the high school, three P.E. locker room buildings, a band hall building and a bank of boys and girls bathrooms to supplement the buildings from the Mansfield school district.

Ramtech also built a 4,600-square-foot lifestyle building, for home economics, parenting and other services. But Mikeska said the building has been converted into a second administration building for the middle school.

“Talk about a company with integrity to work with,” Mikeska said. “It’s been a God-honest joy to work with them.”

A Ramtech crew was on site last week finishing its work, well into the school year. Ramtech President Linc Moss criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agemcu for “dragging their feet on providing funding.”

“Only late in June did they finally give the green light to move forward on it,” Moss said.

But he called the project “very rewarding,” particularly working with the West school staff.

“Everyone we met on their staff is just as nice as they can be,” Moss said. “To play an active role to help these guys get through this tragedy has really been a labor of love.”

Brogden said although the district, from the school board on down, wanted to demonstrate its good neighborliness, officials were aware of their fiduciary responsibility to the Mansfield taxpayers. Brogden emphasized the buildings weren’t donated, they weren’t being used in Mansfield, and when West is done with them, the buildings will be auctioned off and the proceeds returned to Mansfield school district coffers.

Mikeska said his district’s rebuilding plan is in the works. He expects the new high school building to open in December 2015, but the future of the middle school is not as certain, he added.

“FEMA’s on the ground with us here and we’re trying to come up with a plan on that. Hopefully we will rebuild it,” he said.

The district is considering combining the middle and intermediate schools into one campus, Mikeska said. Fourth grade would move to the elementary school, and fifth grade to the new middle school.

One thing is for sure, he added: a memorial of some sort will be part of the new construction.

“It’s in its infancy,” Mikeska said. “We plan to use some of the donated resources to erect something. We don’t know what it will be, but, yes, we’re definitely in the talking phases.”

Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann

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