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Classes start in Wynne at temporary replacement for high school destroyed by March 31 tornado

by Tony Holt | September 6, 2023 at 7:26 a.m.
Wynne High School assistant principal Marc Griffin, far left, directs bus traffic and arriving students on the first day of class at the temporary campus in Wynne on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. The school district was forced to build the temporary campus after the original high school was destroyed by an EF-3 tornado on March 31, 2023. See more photos at (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

WYNNE -- Superintendent Kenneth Moore headed home from the Wynne Senior High School campus on March 31 at 4:30 p.m. -- after the sky turned black and about 12 minutes before the power went out.

Then Moore got inside his storm shelter and waited out the twister, which came within 300 yards of his house. Sometime later, he got a call from a district employee.

"You need to come down here," he told Moore. "It's not good."

The high school had been leveled by the EF3 tornado with winds that exceeded 150 mph -- the equivalent of a high-end, Category 4 hurricane.

On Tuesday, the new, temporary campus of Wynne Senior High opened its doors. Around 7:30 a.m., buses snaked through the property at 1430 Falls Blvd., which previously had been the site of a mobile home park. Trees were removed, modular buildings were shipped from Florida and new asphalt was laid down -- and all of the work was done in a few months.

  Gallery: Wynne Students Return to Class


"There's an excitement here," Moore said of students in grades nine through 12 who have a campus again. "I saw a lot of smiles. The students missed each other. There's just a special bond that high school students have. It feels good to see them be normal students again."

Moore, who graduated from Wynne Senior High in 2000, watched Tuesday morning as the students exited the cafeteria, crossed the narrow street and splintered off toward separate buildings for their first period classes.

The temporary campus will remain the site of the high school for the next three years, until a new facility is built on the footprint of the previous school, district spokesman Aaron Russell said.

Dating back to the 1950s, Wynne High has had one of the strongest football programs in the state, Russell said, and he has been fielding questions for months about whether the school would have home football games, or even a full season. The stadium was severely damaged by the tornado, especially the turf.

Russell said he was happy to report that a full slate of games is coming. He was equally happy to see all the hard work that took place during the summer pay off so that all school activities could resume.

"I hate using this metaphor, but it was such a whirlwind figuring out how to make everything work," he said. "Six months ago, if you had told me that we'd be here by the start of the school year, I would have laughed at you."

The Wynne School District has a primary, intermediate, junior high and senior high school. The primary and intermediate campuses were not seriously damaged and remained vacant for only five days, while the junior high building was untouched, and students were able to safely attend classes there.

The senior high school building suffered significant damage, so students at the senior high level had to attend classes for the remainder of the 2022-23 school year and the start of the current school year at the school arena and at East Arkansas Community College Technical Center, Russell said.

At the east end of the temporary campus, a median along the entryway made for a tight turning radius for bus drivers dropping off students in front of the cafeteria, which is where students assemble every morning. A concrete sidewalk still under construction was lined with reinforced steel bars sticking from the dirt, which made maneuvering the turn even more challenging. Each time a bus turned left onto the entryway leading to the entrance of the cafeteria, Russell watched nervously as the tires avoided rolling over the bars by mere inches.

Regardless, the school day went off without a hitch.

"I think we're all dealing with the anxiety of the unknown, but everyone is pretty excited," said Kristy Marrs, a geometry teacher at Wynne. "The kids have been very resilient. They've rolled with everything thrown their way."

Nayshaun Warren, 18, a senior, said the cafeteria was loud and crowded at the start of the day, but no one felt like complaining.

"It's just great to see everybody together," he said. "It's good to see how hard everyone is working to make this as smooth of a school year as possible."

Moore was a high school junior when the senior high campus opened 25 years ago. Seeing it reduced to rubble last spring brought him to his knees, he said.

"I thought about what my coach would say after a loss," he said. "You've got 24 hours to pout, then it's time to get to work. We didn't even wait that long to get to work."

Perhaps the biggest sense of comfort everyone felt Tuesday came from knowing that students would be served hot cafeteria meals again, Moore said.

"They won't have to deal with sack lunches anymore," he said. "The students are very excited about that."

Print Headline: Twister-struck school gets temporary home


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