The road to recovery after the devastating fertilizer plant explosion in April of 2013 continues for the city of West. Today West ISD officially broke ground on their new middle and high school campus – two schools destroyed by the deadly blast.
In a sea of black and red Trojan school colors -- hundreds of excited students, teachers and community members gathered in the grassy field where West middle and high school used to be…and they broke ground for the new campus.
A little over a year and a half earlier – at this same exact spot – the picture was very different. The West fertilizer plant explosion happened just a few blocks away -- destroying the middle and high school campuses. Over 150 homes and buildings in the vicinity were also destroyed. 15 people lost their lives. Over a hundred people were injured.
West sophomore Payton Landrum lost her home in the blast.
“I never really thought of how important my home was and my family was until it could’ve been gone. And my home was gone," said Landrum. "So I think you really just need to realize how much God has given you and take advantage of that.”
And for sophomore Rachel Sinkule – she’s made the best of going to class this school year in what students like to call “portable city." That’s 65-thousand square feet of portable buildings that currently serve as West high and middle schools.
“We learned we gotta stay positive and things can happen in an instant," said Sinkule. "Stuff can be gone before our eyes.”
West High Principal Dr. Jan Hungate says the ground breaking has marked a huge milestone for healing not only in the district – but for West.
“So many times your community is your school. And your school is the whole community," Hungate said. "So it’s been healing for the entire city. Not just for the kids and the students and the teachers and the school, but it’s a huge milestone for the entire city.”
Assistant superintendent Charles Mikeska says finalizing the $45-million in state and disaster funding for the new conjoined campuses has been a little “crazy.” That’s because he’s also been serving as one of three interim superintendents at West ISD. Former superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford resigned during the summer to take the top leadership position at Tyler ISD.
For Mikeska – breaking ground has provided some closure.
“Well there’s a lot of emotions. As you know we suffered a horrible tragedy," Mikeska said. "The community pulled together with help from the outside. It’s the beginning of some closure.”
Official construction will begin within a few weeks. The schools were originally set to open in January of 2016. But Mikeska says the date’s been pushed back a couple of months because of the magnitude of Dr. Crawford leaving as well as some funds not being received as quickly as expected.