Building Back Better
These five Alabama communities, in various stages of recovery, share a common determination: to build back better than ever.
The new Enterprise High School designed by Woodham & Sharpe of Montgomery, built by Brasfield & Gorrie of Birmingham with electrical by Dothan’s Consolidated Electrical Contractors and Engineers.
Alabama is vulnerable to major storm damage from tornadoes and hurricanes, and lately it seems we have had more than our fair share. Within recent years numerous major community and business buildings, as well as residences, have been destroyed across the state. Fortunately Alabama communities have risen to the challenge to rebuild their landmarks bigger and better than before. Here’s a look at some of the major structures that have taken a hit but are coming back better — better able to serve their purpose and better able to stand up to the next storm.
ENTERPRISE HIGH SCHOOL
Aaron Milner, superintendent of Enterprise City Schools, vividly recalls seeing the killer tornado that struck Enterprise High School on March 1, 2007. At that time, he was the principal of Dauphin Junior High. “I remember thanking God the tornado missed our school, having no idea it would end up hitting the high school,” he says.
The category EF4 tornado destroyed part of the high school’s science wing, a hallway and a new gym and severely damaged other areas of the school, including a parking lot where cars were piled up during the heavy winds. The tornado also damaged nearby Hillcrest Elementary School.
But the worst blow was the death toll of nine. In addition, many students were injured. “It was a terrible time for us. The community was devastated with grief,” Milner says.
News of the tragedy spread nationally. It was the first killer tornado the country had experienced at a school since 1990. Rachael Ray and performers, such as The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, The Skyline Drive, Course of Nature, May-Day and Brandon Kelley, stepped up to assist the community. Ray helped cater the senior prom and a Band-Aid concert fundraiser was held.
As Enterprise looked toward the future, there was a push to not only relocate and rebuild the high school and elementary school, but also to create an exemplary educational center that would serve as a symbol of pride for the community. The high school’s teachers were enlisted to help shape the plans for the new school for grades 10 to 12. Included would be a state-of-the-art performing arts center that would seat 1,800, well-designed labs and career technical shops and top-notch athletic facilities.
The final price tag for the new high school was $90 million, with an additional $13 million for the adjacent Hillcrest Elementary School. Funding came from insurance payouts, the state of Alabama, FEMA, county revenues and donations. The county approved a 0.5 percent sales tax and a $30 million municipal bond issue. “Community members and our government leaders came together to make this possible,” Milner says.
The new, 525,000-square-foot high school opened in August 2010 and now serves about 1,500 students. After three years of conducting classes in trailers at Enterprise State Community College, teachers cried when they first toured the new facility. “So many sacrifices had been made but something good had come out of the destruction. That was healing for us,” Milner says. “Our community takes great pride that the new high school is one of the premier schools in the Southeast.”
The high school’s performing arts center not only serves students but also is the community venue for entertainment bookings.
Brasfield & Gorrie, in Birmingham, was the general contractor. Woodham & Sharpe, in Montgomery, was the architect. Dothan-based Consolidated Electrical Contractors and Engineers was the electrical contractor.
WRANGLER PLANT IN HACKLEBURG
The April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak wreaked havoc in the small town of Hackleburg, tearing up much of the town and killing 26 people. The town’s major employer, the Wrangler Distribution Plant, was severely damaged and had to be closed. Even so, Wrangler provided recovery supplies, including water, diapers, flashlights, batteries and power generators, following the storm and made trauma and grief counseling available.
Wrangler temporarily extended employees pay and benefits following the center closing, but the community feared what would happen if the parent company, VF Jeanswear, decided not to rebuild.
The ad valorem and occupational taxes Wrangler paid and additional tax dollars generated by the center’s 150 employees provided a major share of the city’s revenue.
Residents were on pins and needles during the weeks it took for VF Jeanswear to make their decision. “Without Wrangler, it would have been hard for the town to go on,” says Hackleburg Mayor Waymon “Whitey” Cochran.
Thanks to an attractive package of local and state incentives and local strengths — a strategic location and a trained workforce — VF Jeanswear opted not only to rebuild, but to expand the facility. The Governor’s Office, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Alabama Power, Marion County and the City of Hackleburg came together to offer breaks, grants, loans and other incentives to VF Jeanswear.
The new, $31 million distribution center could eventually employ 250 workers. During the rebuilding process, Wrangler employees worked in a local sewing facility in Hackleburg and a former distribution center in Holly Pond. Wrangler plans for about 30 of those employees to be transferred to the new distribution center by the end of February. “Shipping is expected to begin by March 1,” Cochran says. “By the end of April or early May, the center should be at 100 percent employment.”
Additional jobs will be added by VF Jeanswear as demand ramps up. “We have been known for the Wrangler center for many years. It’s part of our town’s identity, so it will mean a lot to everyone for them to get back up and running,” Cochran says. “It’s an attractive new facility.”
Hackleburg also will be receiving $4.5 million in state grants and low-interest loans to assist in its ongoing recovery process, including repairing infrastructure, demolishing damaged buildings and bringing in new business to the downtown. “We’ve still got a long way to go to rebuild our town, but we’ll come back stronger than before,” Cochran says.
The general contractor was Conlan Co., in Atlanta. Sedlak Material Handling, based in Ohio, oversaw the material handling systems. The architect was Randall-Paulson, in Roswell, Ga.
TRINITY EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN MOBILE
This past Christmas Day, sundown brought a very mixed blessing to Mobile’s Trinity Episcopal Church in the form of a tornado. At first it might be hard to see what good could come from having the historic sanctuary and its newer parish hall severely damaged, but the congregation began counting their blessings early on. “We were so thankful no one was injured. If it had happened the evening before, 100 people (attending the Christmas Eve service) might have been killed,” says Rev. Bailey Norman, the church’s rector.
All Saints Episcopal Church, just one mile from Trinity, was the first of 11 area churches to offer assistance to Trinity in the form of temporary use of their space for worship services. Because of the proximity and the close relationship of the sister churches, which have collaborated on several projects, the Trinity congregation began holding services at All Saints. “We’ve enjoyed having them here, and it’s been wonderful to get to know them better,” says Rev. Jim Flowers, rector at All Saints.
Repair work on Trinity, originally built in the mid-1800s, is underway. To stabilize the sanctuary, steel cables have been attached to the buttresses on the east side of the church and anchored to the foundation. Steel beams will be dropped in to anchor the roof and further reinforce the walls. The slate roof, torn away by heavy winds, will be replaced. “The appearance of the historic structure won’t be changed except for the steel reinforcements that will be covered by wood work,” Norman says.
Reconstruction of the parish hall, which lost a wall, is expected to be complete by this spring. The church plans to then begin holding services at the hall until the sanctuary is completed, perhaps as soon as 18 months.
The total cost for the repairs is still being determined and will be mostly covered by the church’s insurance provider, which is under the auspices of the Episcopal Church. While repairs are being made, the church also plans to invest funds in much-needed maintenance.
The church hopes to raise funds to purchase additional damaged adjacent properties, which could be used for expanded church ministries. Donations are being taken at the “Trinity Tornado Recovery Fund” at BankTrust. “We want to use this challenge as an opportunity to move forward with some visions we’ve had for the church,” Norman says. “Since the tornado, we’ve seen a surge of interest and increased attendance. We hope to keep that momentum going.”
One of the greatest blessings the tornado damage has brought, Norman says, is demonstrating how the Mobile community reaches out to help when there is hardship. Just one small example: The History Museum of Mobile is keeping Trinity’s archives safe and dry during the recovery process. “Crisis brings people together in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. We’ve greatly appreciated everyone’s generosity and want to say thank you,” he says.
BAYOU LA BATRE SEAFOOD WASTE PROCESSING PLANT
Bayou La Batre area seafood producers relied on a rudimentary seafood waste processing facility to get rid of the by-products from their crab and shrimp processing until the yard was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After that, they were forced to use a landfill one hour north. Transportation and landfill fees added up to about $250,000 a month for members of the Gulf Coast Agricultural and Seafood Co-Op.
The co-op, originally including 23 seafood producer members, formed to solve their common seafood waste disposal challenge. “The industry had always struggled with the issue of disposal, but it became much worse after Katrina,” says B.G. Thompson, a local consultant to the co-op.
Business and government leaders finally came together to craft an elegant solution to the ongoing waste disposal problem — a new eco-friendly waste processing facility. The new 13,000-square-foot plant was designed not only to efficiently manage waste, but also to generate revenues to pay for operating costs by turning seafood by-products into fertilizer and animal feed. “It was a win-win any way that you looked at it,” Thompson says.
The U.S. Department of Commerce provided a $3.2 million grant for the green plant. The state kicked in $250,000 and $30,000 came from Mobile County. The remaining $750,000 needed was provided by a loan to the co-op. The Farmers Market Authority, a state agency that promotes the marketing of agricultural products, managed construction of the project. “The plant, which we worked on for two years, is the largest project the authority has ever undertaken,” says Don Wambles, director of the authority.
Unfortunately for the area seafood industry, the BP oil spill from April to July 2010 significantly cut seafood demand and production by the time the much-heralded plant opened in May 2011. Membership in the co-op decreased from 23 to 7 seafood producers as the industry faltered. “It’s just taking time to rebuild the market, so the plant is still not operating at full capacity or generating the revenues we’d originally hoped,” Thompson says.
The good news is that the plant has made processing waste less of a headache for area seafood producers, and the co-op has been able to repay the loan for the plant. From an environmental viewpoint, the plant is saving space in the area landfill and was built on a former dredge area that is now being managed as a bird and wildlife sanctuary. The LEED-certified plant was designed with solar collectors and uses natural lighting. It can produce biogenic methane to power the plant. “The project is a success and will hold even greater value in the future as the seafood industry continues to recover,” Wambles says.
Mobile-based White-Spunner Construction was the general contractor. The architect was CFM Group LLC, headquartered in Tuscaloosa.
FIRE STATION 4 IN TUSCALOOSA
The same April storm that damaged Hackleburg was even worse in Tuscaloosa, tearing a swath of destruction a mile wide and six-and-a-half miles long, killing more than 40 people, flattening about 12 percent of the city and damaging even more. Hundreds of businesses and thousands of homes were affected, as was the city’s infrastructure. Many across the nation reached out to help the city with clean up in the aftermath and made recovery donations. Celebrities assisted with benefit concerts.
Even so, Tuscaloosa still has a long way to go. “It’s going to take us years and years to rebuild,” says Clif Penick, Tuscaloosa’s facilities maintenance director. “We don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, because the devastation was so widespread. We feel for those who are now experiencing the recovery process following Hurricane Sandy, because we know how frustrating and difficult it can be.”
On the up side in Tuscaloosa, many individual success stories are emerging from the rubble as the city and its residents try to make the best of the situation. The city is being reinvented according to the Tuscaloosa Forward strategic plan.
After the tornado, the city solicited community input and conducted numerous hearings before making decisions about damaged and destroyed buildings. Among infrastructure that had to be addressed by the city were Fire Station 4, a police precinct, several schools and the 350,000-square-foot Richard A. Curry Municipal Services Facility. The facility housed multiple city departments, including emergency management, environmental services, facilities maintenance and logistics. “We were starting with a blank slate in many cases, so we want to rebuild to meet current needs and make Tuscaloosa an even better place to live,” Penick says.
The planned $2.6 million Fire Station 4 in the Alberta City area, one of the city’s hard-hit low-income areas, and other infrastructure improvements in the area are expected not only to improve city services but also to help boost the community’s appearance and pride.
The old Fire Station 4, which was built in the 1950s, was the city’s oldest fire station and was in a poor location to serve the current population. It housed two fire engines and six firefighters and was difficult to get fire trucks in and out of. The new station is being relocated to a park near the Alberta Elementary School, which also will be rebuilt. Fire Station 4 will house three engines and eight firefighters and be easy to access. Construction is expected to begin this spring and be completed within one year. “Alberta City residents are thrilled about what the new developments will mean to their community,” Penick says.
Funding for the new fire station will come from insurance payouts, not only from the old station, but in part from the destroyed municipal services facility. “After careful analysis, it became clear that our residents would be better served by freestanding buildings to house various departments vs. rebuilding the Richard A. Curry facility,” Penick says.
The city’s new East Police Precinct is expected to be completed in March and the city’s new logistics facility in June. Several other new city facilities are in development or design phases.
Kathy Hagood is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Homewood.