HENRYVILLE, Ind. (WHAS11) -- Nearly five months after an EF-4 tornado destroyed much of the Henryville school complex in Southern Indiana, both the disaster response company and West Clark Community School District are expressing confidence the K-12 schools will be ready for the first day of school on August 7. Teachers are set to return next week, August 1.
"We are 97 percent complete," Kevin Barnes of Balfor Property Restoration said. "We are probably 99 percent complete with the building. We still lack bringing in some of the contents."
The tornado blew off much of the upper floor of the elementary school and wiped out the high school library. In the remainder of the facility, a "contents crew" removed what was salvageable to a warehouse and the school was emptied - disassembled - down to its shell.
"The exterior walls and interior walls were kept," Barnes said. "We replaced all the roof decking and everything on down, and then everything you see from the door to the cabinetry, floor coverings, light fixtures, that's all been replaced."
Barnes said an average of about 300 workers per day, thousands of unique individuals, have been working around the clock for five months. First clearing debris, then determining what needed to be demolished and what could be salvaged.
Balfor gave WHAS11 access to the entire school building Wednesday. Work crews were sanding and painting, wiring for electricity and computers, hanging alumni photos and working on other finishing touches.
Teachers have not been inside the school since a few days after the tornado, when they were allowed less than an hour to retrieve essential items to resume the school year. Waiting for them in their classrooms are boxes of school materials that restoration workers salvaged, cleaned, repacked and returned to the original classrooms.
"The facility will be ready, technology will be ready," John Reed, Assistant Superintendent of West Clark Community Schools said. "Of course, our transportation is ready to start taking the kids in so we feel pretty comfortable."
Reed said some furniture will not arrive in time for the first day of school, but the delay will not impede the schedule.
Thanks in part to the original blueprints, Barnes said the school has been restored as students will remember it. What the tornado didn't blow apart, the disaster response team carefully disassembled, taking notes and photos of what it looked like before the storm so the school could be reassembled.
The restoration did allow for improvements, including more energy efficient building materials and designs, solar panels to heat water and a consistent roof rather than different roofs for the various additions built on to the facility over the years.
In the hall outside the main gymnasium, work crews have begun to restore personality to the buildings, hanging alumni photos on the walls. Just five months ago, the far wall of the gymnasium was blown away by the tornado, rain and hail destroying the main gym floor.
"We love doing this stuff and be able to hand a beautiful finished product back to the community not very long after they have suffered a large loss," Barnes said, standing at the edge of a new Henryville Hornet maple basketball court.