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Explosion Could Leave West, Texas Students in Portables For Years

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Federal emergency officials have approved a $2.9 million grant for temporary structures to house students in schools devastated by the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. 

The blast on April 17 killed 15 people and injured dozens others. 

The district plans to bring in up to 25 portable classrooms, three of which hold ten classrooms. “Other facilities will hold the administrative facilities, other classrooms, a specialized portable building like science and computer labs, along with some dressing areas, a temporary ‘cafetoreum’ along with a temporary band hall and a temporary locker rooms for PE and athletics,” West Superintendent Marty Crawford tells KUT News.

Crawford expects the district to use portable classrooms for the next 18 months to three years, as it rebuilds or repairs schools impacted by the explosion. The intermediate school was destroyed, and parts of the high school and middle school were damaged.

But it’s still unclear if FEMA will approve an additional $40 million in disaster aid for the schools. While FEMA has approved money for personal homeowners, it denied assistancefor things like crisis counseling, legal services, and unemployment assistance. That also means the district will not get federal dollars to repair school infrastructure.

Crawford says it leaves the school district with few options, saying it would be difficult to ask taxpayers to approve a bond referendum after so much property was destroyed by the explosion. All four of the schools are within 800 yards of the fertilizer plant. 

“You’re looking at a large swath of middle class property that would be able to shoulder a lot of tax burden is now completely gone, and that’s not going to be there for the next three to five years as it rebuilds and recuperates,” Crawford says.

It's estimated the school district lost $40 million in property taxes from homes destroyed by the blast, and it will cost between $80 and $100 million to bring the school district back to its original state.  

The district is also still negotiating with its insurance provider to receive the maximum amount of money its policy allows, $59 million. Crawford says that right now, the district has only received one-third of that.

“There’s not a deadline until they’ve determined that’s all they feel they should provide as far as settlement goes – and it’ll be up to district whether to pursue anything further from that,” he says. “Certainly arbitration, mitigation, litigation is a possibility there, and that’s while we’re hoping they recognize their covenant to build buildings that house schoolchildren.”

According to Gov. Rick Perry's appeal letterto the federal government, the school district is only expected to receive 42 percent of their insurance money, or about $25 million.

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