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Media Opportunity: Update on Kathleen Middle’s Restoration a Year After Tornado Strike

Nearly a year has passed since a tornado struck Kathleen Middle, causing extensive damage to the campus and disrupting the lives of students and faculty.

News media are invited to visit the campus on Monday (Oct. 19) at 9:30 a.m. to discuss how renovation efforts have been shaping up.

RSVPs are appreciated. This will help us anticipate how much space will be necessary for social distancing during interviews. You can RSVP by emailing jason.geary@polk-fl.net

Principal Sheila Gregory will be available to discuss the challenges of keeping her storm-damaged school operating, and how the community has rallied behind Kathleen Middle.

Interviews will also be available with Kathleen Middle teachers who recently moved back into classrooms damaged by the storm.

The tornado took place on the night of Oct. 18, 2019 and tore a huge hole in the roof of the main building. There was also significant damage to the gymnasium’s roof, as well as another building housing classrooms for art, television production and the school’s electric utilities academy.

The main building’s roof is finished, and interior work will begin soon. Gymnasium repairs are underway. The classrooms mentioned above have been restored and are back in service. So far, more than $5 million has been sent on repairs.

The entire project is expected to be complete by December 2021. The total cost of the project is not yet known, but construction officials anticipate it will cost more than the $8.1 million recovered through insurance.

In the months since the tornado, the community has generously donated supplies and resources to Kathleen Middle.

In addition, more than $2,000 has been raised for a historical marker, which will be installed next year to celebrate the school’s rich history. This fundraising initiative, known as Friends of Kathleen School, is sponsored by the Kathleen Area Historical Society. Those who wish to contribute can contact the society via Facebook @kahsatsocrum or kathleenahs@gmail.com.

Lois Sherrouse-Murphy, the society’s president, will be available Monday at Kathleen Middle for any questions about the marker initiative or the school’s historical significance.

The school greatly expanded educational opportunities for students in northwest Polk County, helping them find careers and improve their socioeconomic status. Built in 1928, the school served students grades 1-12, and was known as a “strawberry school” for operating April through December so students could help pick strawberries during the harvesting season.

The school became a junior high school (grades 7-9) in the early 1960s and then a middle school in 1993.

The tornado of October 2019 is yet another chapter in the story of this resilient school.

To help with your coverage, please feel free to use photos and videos from the following links:

– School surveillance video (outside front entrance of main building) as storm was taking place:  https://tinyurl.com/y6gqryvt

– Photos of tornado aftermath: https://tinyurl.com/y4rua8af

– Aerial video of campus cleanup work and temporary repairs: https://tinyurl.com/y4gyv8mm

– Video of some community donations after the tornado: https://tinyurl.com/y33lywnl

– Before and after photos of the main building’s roof: https://tinyurl.com/y28fjbhx

– Historic photos of Kathleen School (please credit Kathleen Area Historical Society): https://tinyurl.com/y5mgmugp

– Student-made construction update video (filmed about a week ago and shows current status of the inside of main historic building): https://tinyurl.com/y3lpnxvy

 – Photos of classroom renovations taking place on Building 16: https://tinyurl.com/y4clrnrm

– Video of two teachers providing instruction inside renovated classrooms of Building 16: https://tinyurl.com/y3vyvkd5

0:10 – 0:27 – Amanda Fleming (art teacher)

0:30 – 0:45 – Teresa Yearicks (TV production teacher)

– Photos of repairs underway on gym: https://tinyurl.com/y5b3kmqh

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