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THE REBUILDING OF EAST BRAINERD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

THE BRICKS HAVE FALLEN, BUT WE WILL REBUILD.

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Gunbarrel Road was seeing much less than normal Saturday traffic for that time of year. Mothers with sons and daughters in tow were trying to make last-minute purchases and preparations.

Tomorrow would be Easter.

Many families would normally attend their chosen house of worship; they would be adorned in color-coordinated outfits down to the white leather sole shoes. Yes, wearing white would once again be acceptable ...as well as ...well, it is the south, and we do love our pastels. Mint greens, baby blues, soft violets along with seemingly hundreds of shades of pink ...yes, all the way from "blush" to "bashful." Seersucker would once again move to the forefront in fashion rankings along with stylish headwear.

Instead, COVID had assured us that these would not be normal times. Nothing about those days was normal. Family gatherings, if held at all, would be smaller. Church doors were closed, and fear and confusion made their way throughout communities.

 

Normally pictures would be made by the dozens ...eggs would be hunted, and food would be feasted upon at grandmothers. A traditional ritual masterfully arranged by mom and moms before her over the decades. Dad would simply be reduced to simple eye candy in the lens of the various Kodak moments captured and placed in scrapbooks ...the original hard drives. "My how you've grown” sentiments would be shared across freshly mowed lawns, and all would be well.

That Easter Sunday, masks and the latest social media COVID advice would dominate discussions for those who attempted to gather.

 

The high would be 70 ...with talk of possible storms heading our way in the evening.

 

It was gonna be a lovely day.

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Families and friends shared lots of memories and stories throughout that day, along with legendary tales of those no longer with us, bringing plenty of laughter ...much-needed laughter. Goodbyes would be said, followed by careful hugs and well wishes as the ladies packed baskets of goodies and empty casserole dishes for the trip homeward. It indeed had been a peaceful day ...blue skies and puffy clouds and marshmallow candies and dark chocolate bunnies.

“This just in from the National Weather Service ...”

Reports started coming in throughout the evening with news of storms and tornados in Mississippi that had crossed over into Alabama. All this weather talk had seemed so far away throughout the recent days, but now reports are being watched, radios are tuned in, and phone calls are being made.

 

Something is happening.

 

Each of the TV stations continued breaking into regular programming. Finally, by around 8:00 or so, they weren't just breaking in anymore ...they were staying with the storm coverage. It is indeed bad, and it appears to be moving our way.

 

 

 

 

We receive reports of a tornado, possibly more than one hitting Fort Oglethorpe nearing the state line. At 11:15, several buildings and homes have been damaged, and it appears to be heading now in a north-easterly direction.

A splinter storm touches down over in Chatsworth with fatalities reported, 30 minutes southeast of the storm now moving across the state line. We would learn later that 8 were killed there.

At approximately 11:22, the storm had made a turn, East Brainerd would now be in its direct path. Upgraded to an E3, the tornado crosses I-75 and brings itself to the ground to continue carving its destruction. Reports come in that East Brainerd is being hit and hit very hard ...Holly Hills subdivision took a large portion of the punches. It heads north, crossing over Shallowford and hitting a large section of Ashwood as it makes its way toward the Ooltewah area. There, it seemingly regroups after a few strikes and makes its way into Bradley County to inflict more damage. Three tornados would touchdown there in Cleveland where it chose to stay for a full five minutes until finally leaving and losing strength. At its peak, it had sustained wind speeds of 145 mph and in places left a trail of destruction 1,500 yards wide. Between Fort Oglethorpe and Cleveland, it had crushed most anything in its path for approximately thirty minutes. In the East Brainerd community alone 340 homes would be destroyed.

Thirty minutes.

Monday morning, we awoke to videos and pictures along with word that three had died in Chattanooga and East Brainerd ...eleven in all in the Tennessee Valley. The various images, of course, were startling, and the eyewitness accounts from those that went through it brought even more shock at what truly happened and what could have been. Drones were flying over the damaged areas like flocks of blackbirds.

Seven tornadoes in all had bullied their way through our communities and damage was indeed intensive.

 

In the following days, stories of heroism and courage would be told. The word' miracle 'was used in abundance, and the goodness of mankind was on full display. The various communities mourned their losses while cleaning up, and rebuilding plans had already begun. 

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“...the worst damage to a school I’ve ever seen.”

Hamilton County Schools
Director of Facilities Justin Witt

 East Brainerd Elementary was founded in 1912. In 1926, a new school was built, a beautiful red brick building that would serve the community and the children of that area until the new East Brainerd Elementary School proudly opened in August 2015. That new facility was built a mile away on the old David Brainerd property at a cost of $23 million dollars. The two-story school was 145,000 square feet and was fully wireless, with geothermal heating and air.  There were also large outdoor play areas, and the city of Chattanooga built a new roundabout on Goodwin Road to help with traffic. It was a beautiful facility and brought additional pride to the ever-growing East Brainerd area.

 

The school had an enrollment of 1,200 students making it the largest in Hamilton County.

The school took a major hit that Easter night. Pictures and videos shared on the news, and social media postings would serve to document the damage. Still, it would not be until two weeks later at a Hamilton County School Board meeting that the true severity of the storm would be delivered to the community. It would take upwards of $18 million and possibly more to repair the East Brainerd Elementary School, and it would not be usable again until January of 2021.

 

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Within weeks of the tragedy of that night, construction and rebuilding had already begun.

 

The Christman Company served as the general contractor on the project and they worked alongside architect MBI Companies, Inc.

Our work on the project consisted of:

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We are extremely proud that we played a part in bringing life back into this beautiful school!

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