WALKER COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - Close to one thousand people turned out of the groundbreaking of the new Oakman Elementary School Thursday afternoon. The ceremony comes eleven months after a tornado struck the Walker County school in the early morning hours of December 10th.
The storm severely damaged the building's 5th and 6th grade wings. The student body, which included kindergarteners through 6th graders, were broken up between three locations. Part of the school was in the old building, some grades were put in trailers and the 6th graders were sent to the high school. "I can tell you one thing. They are not roomy," said 4th grader Raven Wade. "It's almost like you're squished together."
"We realize it has affected our students," says principal, Dr. Dennis Willingham. "We've uprooted their culture. And they've been uncomfortable and at times, we've had to make them feel safe."
The community quickly realized their students couldn't learn this way. So in the spring, they loaded up six buses and took 400 people to Montgomery, including the students. They visited over 100 lawmakers before they unanimously approved giving the school 8-million dollars for a new school. The total cost is estimated between 8 to 9 million dollars.
Willingham says the school will likely have what it needs when insurance money is included with money from the state. "I've said from day one God is going to make our trial a blessing. And he has". Willingham was all smiles as the ground breaking began. So was Raven Wade. "I hope the classrooms will be bigger and we won't be squished together."
Construction on the new building is slated to begin in 2 months. Willingham says it's scheduled to be finished in December 2010, with hopes of students being in it by January 2011. The building will house Kindergarten through 8th graders and will have 35 classrooms.