By Russell Hood The Webster Progress-Times
CUMBERLAND — Just over a year after it was destroyed in a powerful tornado, a new East Webster High School is under construction.
The school system broke ground here Friday afternoon on the new facility. Students in grades 7-12 have been attending classes on the campus of Wood College in Mathiston since a tornado virtually destroyed the campus on April 27, 2011.
Webster County School District Superintendent Jack Treloar said by August 2013, the new academic facility with a cafeteria and auditorium is expected to be completed.
“This is a community project, a long-awaited day,” Treloar said before the ceremonial groundbreaking.
The community sprung into action at the school site and in Mathiston after the tornado hit, he said, making it possible for students, faculty and staff to move into Wood only six days later. Treloar recognized the Board of Education, Board of Supervisors, WCSD administrator James Mason and the school district’s insurance agent, Sandra Dewberry, for their involvement and assistance in the recovery/ rebuilding process so far.
He also thanked state Rep. Joey Hood, who was present, for his leadership in the Legislature’s providing a line-item appropriation of $500,000 to help the district match FEMA funding.
“Without his relentless effort that would not have been possible,” the superintendent said.
He also noted that the School Board partnered with consulting group H2O Partners in the demolition process and that some athletic facilities (tennis courts and baseball dugout) have been rebuilt.
A second phase will add in a larger gymnasium and a new field house.
Principal Bill Brand said the groundbreaking was a symbol of the community’s commitment to its school and eagerness to return to the Cumberland campus, which he added will be state of the art academically and athletically when construction is completed. “We will have a new facility the community can look upon with pride.”
Brand, an EWHS graduate himself, acknowledged that many have fond memories of the buildings that were there but said, “It’s much more than buildings that were here and location. … Our school is defined by our community.” He also expressed gratitude that no students were at school when the tornado struck and that they had a place to go.
Additionally, he expressed appreciation for the students, who adopted a rallying cry of “Bigger, Better, Stronger.”
“They had an excellent attitude,” Brand said.
“Today is about looking forward with confidence toward the future,” he said. “We’ll be proud of it for years to come.” Project architect Gary Bailey said he was proud to be a part of the groundbreaking.
“No one has more pride than Webster County Schools,” he said in commending the school system and its supporters. “Great communities have great schools.”
He also recognized the general contractor, Panola Construction of Batesville, and job superintendent Don Ware.