Two years later: PC moving forward
It has been two years to the day since the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak affected the lives of thousands of people across the state and hundreds of lives right in the borders of Franklin County.
At that time, when friends, family and neighbors had lost their lives or lost their homes in Phil Campbell and East Franklin, when destruction was the only thing people could see in these communities, it was hard to believe that the area would ever recover from what happened on that day.
But two years later, both communities have made significant strides in rebuilding and recovery efforts and the residents continue to press forward toward the bright future they envision for their town.
One of the biggest structural losses in the town of Phil Campbell was the damage to Phil Campbell High School, which was a pillar in the community.
For months following the tornado outbreak, the county school board went back and forth with insurance companies and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials about how to replace the school when it was destroyed to the extent that students had to finish out the school year using facilities at Northwest-Shoals Community College’s Phil Campbell campus and move into mobile units in the fall.
As negotiations dragged on, many in the community grew anxious about the future of the town’s school and others grew wary of seeing the once proud school torn and tattered – a constant reminder of the tornado’s destruction.
As late as January 2012, the school board still wasn’t sure where the funds for the new school would come from, but after many long hours of work from several local school officials and state legislators, relief finally came in the form of $25 million dollars promised to the school by the Alabama Department of Finance in February 2012.
“This is great news for our school systems and for the Phil Campbell community,” Williams said at the time. “This letter of guaranteed assistance is a load off our shoulders here at the board of education and it will give assurance to the employees and students at Phil Campbell that they will have a new school that will be a safe and secure place to learn.”
Following the announcement of funding for a new school, the school board set a demolition date for the old school that had served as a center of learning for over 50 years.
The day was bittersweet for most residents who had fond memories of growing up in the old school’s hallways and many gathered discarded bricks and mementos before the school finally came down on July 25, 2012.
“Coming up on the demolition, I definitely have mixed emotions because of my time spent here as a teacher and a coach,” Williams said prior to the event.
“But this school is going to be safer, more functional and an all-around better learning environment for our students, who have been our main priority throughout this whole process.
“It will be something the town can truly be proud of because, really, the pride this town has was never actually tied up in the brick and mortar of the school building – it’s a pride in the people and traditions associated with the school, and that will carry over into this new building too.”
Construction on the new school officially began on January 3 and has continued steadily through the wet, soggy weather the past few months.
“Right now the crews are still doing grading work, but part of the concrete pad for the school is ready to go,” Williams said.
“We’ll hopefully have some of the footings going in sometime next week and the actual building should be going up soon.”
Williams said they hoped to begin using the facilities as early as August of 2014 or early 2015 at the latest.
As far as the town itself goes, great strides have been made over the past two years to help residents build back their homes, restore their businesses, and revitalize the town’s industry.
New construction homes have popped up across the town’s landscape and, with the help of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, donated trees were also planted in place of the ones that were destroyed and knocked down.
Phil Campbell and the community of East Franklin, which has also seen its fair share of homes being rebuilt across the rural area, also received good news in December 2012.
East Franklin received $125,000 in grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program to rebuild the volunteer fire station that was vital to the isolated community.
During the same grant presentation, Phil Campbell received more than $2.4 million in grants and low interest loans and an additional $1.5 million was secured from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in March.
Phil Campbell councilman Danny Brown, who also serves as mayor pro-tempore, said most of the funding would go toward repairing problems with the sewer system and the streets as well as economic development to help rebuild the tax base.
Mayor Steve Bell said additional funds would be used for the creation of a new water tower and water lines that will be placed in the town’s industrial park.
He also said a company has already committed to relocating in the Phil Campbell Industrial Park, even though the name of the company has not been released.
“The concrete pad for the 82,000-square foot building has been leveled out, and this company is committed to our town, which will be a great boost to our economy,” Bell said.
“It is just an exciting time in Phil Campbell with all these different rebuilding efforts taking place. The grant money we’ve received is helping us with these projects that are vital to our community and the support we’ve received is overwhelming.
“We appreciate all the different people working to rebuild our town, from the federal level down to our dedicated citizens. I truly believe Phil Campbell will be stronger than ever when it’s all said and done.”