About 100 Gateway Middle School students will be spending the rest of the school year in temporary quarters, following the recent weekend fire that heavily damaged their campus.
But it could have been much worse.
Thanks to the rapid response and overtime efforts of Killeen Independent School District officials and employees, the temporary campus was ready for the students the following Monday morning, less than 36 hours after the fire was extinguished at the alternative school.
With Killeen ISD’s new career center having opened its doors last month, the district was fortunate to have space available at the district’s old Career Center/Pathways complex on Atkinson Avenue. But the center — consisting of a dozen portable buildings — had been vacant for some time.
As a result, the portables lacked telecommunications infrastructure and classroom furniture. The new “school” also had no place for the students to eat meals.
But because of teamwork and dedication, the new temporary campus became a reality, literally overnight.
Indeed, it was no small feat. Information technology specialists, food service workers, electricians, maintenance and groundskeeping crews all had a hand in the transformation.
Employees from the district’s warehouse and purchasing offices aided in the effort as well.
Work crews also salvaged some furniture from the undamaged portion of the Gateway campus.
Leslie Gilmore, the district’s public information officer, estimated that as many as 80 people were involved in the project, which was coordinated by Deputy Superintendent John Craft, as Superintendent Robert Muller was in Washington, D.C., for a national conference. Muller cut short his trip and made his way back to the district as soon as he heard of the fire.
Gilmore said dozens of employees gave up their time to help out, many of them calling to ask if there was anything they could do. It really was a districtwide effort, she said.
Before it was all said and done, the new campus had nine fully functioning classrooms, offices, a clinic and even a cafeteria.
The district also moved curriculum resources into the new campus, and coordinated transportation to the school for the affected students.
And it was all finished by Sunday evening, in time for the start of instruction the following day.
The fact that all this work could be done in such a short period of time speaks volumes about the organization and commitment behind the project.
Now, another project awaits — that of tearing down the charred portion of the old Gateway campus off Zephyr Road.
The Sept. 22 blaze — which officials are labeling as arson — took firefighters two hours and 1 million gallons of water to extinguish.
The school’s offices were destroyed by the fire, and much of the facility sustained heavy smoke and water damage. Sadly, four of the school’s teachers lost everything they had in their classrooms. Now, those teachers, along with their displaced students, will spend the rest of the year in temporary facilities.
Police are looking for a “person of interest” in connection with the blaze. Several witnesses reported seeing a man jump over a school fence and run from the area shortly before observing smoke rising from the Gateway campus. Hopefully, someone will come forward with information that will help bring the arsonist to justice.
In the meantime, Killeen ISD is assessing the cost of the fire and deciding what to do next with the damaged campus. It likely would be a difficult decision to tear down the old Gateway Middle School campus, but it may be the best option.
For now, it’s comforting to know that the district went to such great lengths to prepare a new home for fewer than 100 of its 40,000 students.
In that regard, Killeen ISD’s administration, staff and employees deserve high marks, indeed.