Sixteen months and more than $3 million later, Abernathy students have a new middle school. Five teenagers intentionally set the building on fire in October 2004. The school has since remodeled classrooms, the library the auditorium. On Thursday night they showed it all off with an open house. NewsChannel 11's Kealey McIntire visited the school and tells us how difficult the past 16 months have been.
Many of us know what it's like to live out of a suitcase in a hotel for a couple days, so just imagine how it would be to live like that for over a year. That's how staff members describe the experience of not having a building to call home.
Abernathy Middle School now has updated classrooms, new paint and new lockers. However the same building looked like a different building 16 months ago after five students set it on fire. Nearly everything inside sustained fire and smoke damage, including the equipment in computer teacher Judy Butcher's room.
"Everywhere you walked was black, everything you touched had soot on it and the overall feeling was just like wow," described Butcher.
"I think we spent about $65,000 on new computers," said Principal Harold Bufe. The school district had to replace all the computers for the entire school.
Before the building re-opened in December, teachers and students were forced to use vacant high school and elementary school classrooms. "A different feeling because here my kids are taller than I am and all of a sudden we have all these little kindergartners running around," explained Butcher.
After shifting around from classroom to classroom came the portable classrooms. The field where 12 portable classrooms were set up is now empty, but that's where the 170 students attended classes before they were aloud back in the building.
"We had nicknames for it," said Butcher, "some called it the trailer park, some called it the village. We just really tried to have fun with it."
Butcher says they maintained a good attitude and tried to adapt. She had to teach her students on laptops rather than the classroom desktops they're used to. Without lockers backpacks were piled everywhere, and without a bell kids were frequently tardy.
Butcher says it's great to finally have a real classroom with real walls to call home, however she says the experience taught her an unforgettable lesson
"It made you realize what you had and what you could teach without, so we made the best of the situation. I think it was overall a good experience," she said.
As for the five teens responsible for starting the fire, they are each serving an eight year sentence for arson and criminal mischief. However, Eric Sepeda, James Hernandez, Jose Hernandez and Juan Dominquez will be eligible for parole this September. The Hale County District Attorney says they were already denied parole once. The fifth teenager is not eligible for parole because he was 16 at the time of the crime.
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