WEST (July 26, 2013)—The Federal Emergency Management Agency Friday announced a grant of nearly $2.8 million to help the West ISD rebuild schools damaged or destroyed by the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion.
The explosion, which killed 15 people, heavily damaged three of the West Independent School District's four schools.
About 700 West students in grades 7 through 12 finished the school year in the temporary quarters provided by the Connally ISD after the explosion, while pre-K through 6th grade students resumed classes after the blast at West Elementary School, which wasn’t damaged.
The grant announced Friday includes money for temporary classrooms and administrative buildings to replace those destroyed or damaged in the explosion.
"Getting students back to normal schedules and attending school in their own community is an important part of the recovery," said FEMA's Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin L. Hannes.
"These funds will help the district recover costs for adding the temporary facilities."
The first day of school in West is Aug. 26.
Workers are in the process of installing 25 temporary portable buildings, each containing 10 classrooms, for the upcoming school year at an estimated cost of about $6 million.
Under a cost-sharing formula, FEMA will reimburse the state for 75 percent of the total costs while the state covers the rest.
Federal officials previously rejected $40 million in disaster aid for the schools and insurers offered just $20 million of the district's $59 million policy.
An architectural firm the district hired to assess the damaged schools recommended that West Intermediate and West High School be demolished and rebuilt.
At West Middle School, the firm said the original high school building and gym can be salvaged, but that the rest should be bulldozed.
In June FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate denied a major disaster declaration for West in a letter to Gov. Rick Perry in which he said, “This event is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.”
An emergency disaster declaration was issued on April 19 and was expanded on May 1 to allow residents affected by the explosion to seek Individual Assistance Grants to cover such things as temporary housing, home repairs, medical and dental expenses, funeral expenses, personal property and transportation.
Nearly 800 residents registered for assistance with FEMA.
But the major disaster declaration would allow the city and school district to seek federal funds to repair the damaged public infrastructure.
Damage to the town's water pipes and sewer system could cost as much as $17 million to repair and the West ISD is faced with spending $100 million or more to rebuild schools and provide temporary classrooms until construction is completed, far more than the district’s insurance will cover.
In addition, the McLennan County Appraisal District estimates a loss of $40 million in taxable property value because of damage and destruction.