Tornado-struck Murphy looks better, but unclear when it will be ready for students (photos)
 By Rena Havner Philips |
on December 27, 2012 at 11:21 AM, updated December 27, 2012 at 12:01 PM

MOBILE, Alabama -- The campus of tornado-struck Murphy High School looks much cleaner today than it did yesterday, but it remains doubtful whether the 2,250 students will be able to return here when classes resume from winter break on Jan. 3. 

Mobile County school officials are meeting now to talk about the extent of the damage, including structural damage to several buildings, and to decide where the students will go. 
Superintendent Martha Peek said Wednesday the students might stay together on campus or move elsewhere, depending on what architects working for the state and school system say during the meeting, which started at 11 a.m. 

Every building on the sprawling campus on Carlen Street was damaged. 

Facilities Manager Tommy Sheffield said this morning that the consensus he’s hearing from the professionals is that “considering the campus has had widespread structural damage, it would be in the best interest of the safety of the students to evacuate until more investigation can be done.” 
In particular, he said, contractors will have to do more damage to the buildings to check on them. In the cafeteria, where the roof appears to have been lifted but returned to place, Sheffield said, workers will likely have to remove all of the wood to determine how and if it’s still anchored.

“We don’t want to come in and say, ‘We can drive a nail in here and fix it,’” Sheffield said. “We have to do it right, to keep the old construction, but update it.” 

That could be a complicated process as the school system works with its insurance company. Sheffield said the school system will have to pay a $2,000 deductible for each of Murphy’s 20 buildings. Then, there might be some debate over whether items are simply repaired or restored.

Meanwhile, a crew of about 30 with Belfor Property Restoration has been removing glass and other debris from classrooms, hallways and other parts of the buildings. They’ve been packing up food from Murphy’s freezers to deliver to other schools. And even more have been working outside.

The inside of the main building and cafeteria looked significantly better this morning, as much of glass that was scattered everywhere yesterday was gone. 

System technology crews were removing computers from the classrooms to keep them from getting too much moisture as a large dehumidifier and a generator arrived by truck outside. 

Puddles of water that were in the cafeteria yesterday have been mopped up. 

Outside, crews were sawing and removing pieces of the majestic oak trees that littered the yard yesterday. Others were removing the pieces of wood that were portable classrooms.

The windows to the main building were boarded up. 

Contractors with Rod Cooke Construction Inc. were preparing to put tarps over roofs that were ripped off. That process will be complicated over the school’s auditorium, where about 40 percent of the roof was removed, throwing Spanish tiles everywhere. Rod Cooke Sr. said they will have to install a wooden framework to lay the tarps upon the large and high auditorium roof. 

It’s not clear how long it will take to clean up and repair the school, officials said. There’s still much more work that needs to be done before any students arrive. For example, while much of the glass has been removed, shards remain in bulletin boards and books that will have to be cleaned with particular detail before students and teachers can use them.

Right now, crews are stabilizing the buildings, said Russell Fountain, with Belfor, so they aren’t damaged any worse. 

Many of the contracted workers actually went to Murphy, which was for a long time Alabama’s largest high school. 

“There’s a lot of pride,” Fountain said. “They’re glad to be here, part of the process.”