Road to Recovery

Aplington-Parkersburg Admins Reflect on High School Reconstruction

By Meryn Fluker, Reporter

Aplington-Parkersburg High School on Friday, May 17, 2013. The high school was rebuilt after a tornado in 2008. (KCRG/THE GAZETTE)

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By Aaron Hepker

PARKERSBURG, Iowa - For Jon Thompson, there are days when the tornado that struck Parkersburg, Iowa, feels like it happened “a long time ago.” Other days, however, seem like the storm just touched down.

It was five years ago when the tornado – which registered the highest rating, EF5, on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which measures storm intensity – ripped through the city.

“My first thought was to set up a storm shelter,” said Thompson, superintendent of the Aplington-Parkersburg Community School District. “When I arrived at the school, I quickly realized that using the high school as storm shelter would not work.”

He discovered that the tornado, which struck Parkersburg at 4:56 p.m. on May 25, 2008, had destroyed Aplington-Parkersburg High School.

“I’d like to say I was sad but I think I was awestruck by the sheer damage," Thompson said. "Then you go into reaction mode.”

The superintendent pledged that the Parkersburg building would be rebuilt in the same location and in time to begin the 2009-10 school year.

“The people I spoke with, other administrators and Ed Thomas, who was the football coach at the school at the time, we talked about how important it was for people in our community and our kids to hear that,” he said. “I didn’t realize there was a little more to it than you can do in a year.”

The community rallied to help meet what Dave Meyer, then finishing his first year as the high school’s principal, called a “lofty goal.” Volunteers from throughout the state and country converged on the small Iowa city and offered “an outpouring of help,” he said.

Staff and faculty worked throughout the summer on getting the school back on track. For the following school year, the school’s ninth- through 12th-grade students and staff relocated to the middle school in Aplington.

The $19 million reconstruction project was not fully complete, but on Aug. 24, 2009, the school opened for the first day of classes.

Meyer recalled that students even gave up three days of their summer vacation to move in furniture just to make sure that the school would be ready in time for instruction, even though construction on the gym and auditorium would not be complete until the winter.

“I guess it didn’t surprise me in regards to how they reacted. There was a job that needed to be done,” he said. “The community pulled together. I always use the term ‘get up and get back at it’ and they certainly did.”

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