POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Kathleen Middle School is almost back to normal, a year after an EF-2 tornado caused serious damage to multiple buildings on the campus.
Art Teacher Amanda Fleming is one of few teachers that have been able to get back into their classrooms.
"I'm happy to be back," she said.
The tornado ripped the roof off multiple buildings, including the main building. Water damage destroyed just about everything.
"It was kind of insane," Fleming said. "I wasn't expecting what I saw."
She and school officials were beaming Monday morning talking about the progress construction crews made.
"We have a roof! We didn't have a roof before, and the gym roof is back on," Principal Sheila Gregory said. "The kids can't wait to get back in the gym. It's going to be great."
TV production teacher Teresa Yearicks is back in her classroom as well.
"It's just been a game-changer, and the kids are happy to be back," she said. "They're happy to be in a bigger space."
Most classrooms are still in the portables because construction isn't done.
Richard Alderman is the senior director of facilities and operations. He said students will likely be using those classrooms until December 2021. That's when construction is expected to be completed.
"This is not a remodel or restoration. I want to make that clear," said Alderman.
The plan is to fix the damage, update some things that are out of code and upgrade materials.
"It's basically going to be the same building as before," he said.
That's good news for the community. Many were concerned about the possibility of a remodel and how that would erase the school's history.
"That building is historic and it feels comfortable," said teacher Yolanda Webster.
The project is expected to cost about $8 million.