By AMANDA ARNOLD
On Tuesday, students in Henryville will open lockers, study at their desk and eat lunch with friends inside a building many thought they would never enter again. When a devastating tornado ravaged the school March 2, many were unsure what the future would be.
“I’m surprised to be going back. I’m excited and surprised that they got it done so fast,” said senior Brandon Crochett.
During the rededication of the Henryville schools Sunday, the community, staff, students, Belfor Construction Co. and Hanover Insurance Co. echoed those feelings. The hard work that lead to the completion of the school in time for the first day took a committed community.
Glenn Riggs, principal at Henryville Elementary School, shared his stories and concerns for the about 700 students in the school system.
“We were going around trying to figure out our next chapter,” Riggs said.
He acknowledged the outpouring of support from Graceland Baptist Church and those in Scottsburg, who made it possible for the kids to go to school beginning 12 days after the storm.
“That was a miracle, and the love and care brought to our teachers and staff was such a blessing every day. They welcomed us with cheers and smiles, and after 50 days of that we left with tears because we found a fit. Our children were happy, safe and cared for,” Riggs said.
Pulling through the wreckage and arriving to the first day of school has indeed been a miracle for Monty Schneider, West Clark superintendent. For Schneider, March 2 could have been the worst day of his 40-year career, but instead it served as a lesson about community and the resiliency of Henryville.
“I’m not an outwardly religious man, but since then I am more of one. Something, someone or some greater force than us got us through that day,” he said. “With that, I admit that I told a small white lie after the storm. I told people that I made a commitment to have a school in Henryville and not split up these kids, but I didn’t know how we would do that.”
Normally, the amount of damage that was repaired at Henryville would take eight months or more to complete, but because of the commitment of the community, school board and Belfor, it took only five months.
During the rededication, Rob Robbins, of Belfor, gave thanks to the school for reaching out to the company to undertake the massive construction project. When Belfor began the construction efforts, not many people were familiar with the company.
“You stopped your cars to ask if we were hungry or thirsty. Your kids made signs that said ‘thank you Belfor.’ You offered us cookies,” said Robbins, who described his office as a place decorated with thank you cards and pictures from the residents of Henryville.
“You as a community reached out to us in a way we have not experienced before. On behalf of everyone at Belfor, we are grateful and honored to be here. Five months ago, we gave you a promise that we would have your kids back in this building on the first day of school,” said Robbins.
The delivered promise was well-received by Connie Seader, who has served as an employee at Henryville Schools for 23 years.
“The building is phenomenal. It has a lot of the old look to it, but it also has a lot of new things too,” said Seader.
Hanover Insurance worked closely with Belfor and Henryville in order to meet the goal.
“This has been a very significant recovery process here. I think we all know and we all have shared this. I think you all will agree that the magnitude of such a tragedy deeply affects the entire community,” said George Agyen of Hanover Insurance.
Throughout its 160 year history, this was the single largest loss for Hanover Insurance.