Six months since a quiet Monday during spring break morphed into something much worse.
Six months since the warnings from James Spann put fear, and caution, into the minds of all.
Six months since home no longer looked like home.
Six months since the homes of some could no longer be home.
Six months since a lot of lives changed.
Six months since the fact that lives were merely changed and not, thankfully, lost, was the only glimmer of hope for a community and university now thrust into agony.
Six months since March 19 became the new April 27 for Jacksonville, Alabama.
Six months since anyone that ever was connected to Jacksonville State woke up with a feeling of emptiness.
In those six short months, we’ve come a long way.
Sure, the scars are still there. On the campus. On the community. On its people.
We could have let that tornado rip us apart. It certainly did the town and campus. We’ve been left to deal with these problems, and there have been disagreements along the way.
We could complain about the way the University is handling things. About the issues with campus and off-campus housing within the city. We could complain about having to navigate a mazing morass of fences to get to class or having to strain to hear our instructors above the unavoidable noises of construction outside.
But for the most part, we’ve come together to show great patience, understanding, love and compassion in a time of need for so many. We’ve grasped the larger picture. We’ve understood that it could have been so much worse.
We’ve proven time and time again that the reason Jacksonville is “home” is not because of the houses or buildings or land or trees that will never be the same again, but because of the people that the tornado, thankfully, spared.
Six months after devastating EF-3 tornadoes whipped through campus and community on March 19, 2018, Jacksonville State University finds itself rebounding, but still recovering.
“Showing the true Gamecock spirit, we rose up to meet every obstacle in our path,” said Jacksonville State University President Beehler. “Now, six months later, we have made substantial progress ahead of schedule with bright and sunny days ahead. JSU is emerging stronger and better than ever!”
According to JSU, damage estimates to University facilities and properties has risen to $70 million, up from early estimates of $42 million. 50 of JSU’s 70 on-campus structures were damaged, and 40 are currently undergoing roof repairs.
Despite the heavily damaged campus, JSU saw no meaningful dip in enrollment this semester.
“Undergraduate student enrollment decreased by 170 students compared to last fall, but this loss was counterbalanced by an increase of 82 graduate students,” JSU announced on Tuesday. “That means JSU may be down 88 total students, but since its students are taking more classes, revenue remains steady.”
“This news is something to celebrate,” Beehler said. “There were moments over the past few months when we thought we were facing an enrollment loss of 5-10 percent. That kind of drop would have been devastating to JSU both financially and socially. I am very pleased with these results and want to thank all employees for their efforts in the recovery and rebuilding process and every student who stood by the university during this difficult time.”
JSU says repairs should be completed within the the next two weeks at Theron Montgomery Building, Crow Hall, Dixon Hall, Curtiss Hall, Fitzpatrick Hall, Daugette Hall and Hammond Hall, while work will continue through October/November at Ayers Hall, Bibb Graves Hall, Martin Hall, McGee Hall and Stone Center. The repairs at Houston Cole Library are scheduled to wrap up in January.
JSU also announced that the University’s two ongoing construction projects that were unaffected by the tornadoes, the new Fitness and Wellness Center and newly renovated Rudy Abbott Field at Jim Case Stadium, will be completed as scheduled. The Wellness Center is slated to open in January, while there will be a grand opening ceremony for the completed baseball stadium September 29.
Just six months after devastation rocked the community, Jacksonville State University, while not there yet, is well on its way to a return to normalcy, for campus, students and faculty.
Just take a moment and look around Jacksonville State’s campus.
There are more sets of temporary fences than at a high school softball championship tournament. There are more equipment trucks than at a John Deere store. There are more tractor trailers than at truck stops in Iowa.
You know what there isn’t a lot of? Places for students to park.
Parking has always been a topic of discussion at the beginning of each semester. At Houston Cole Library, which is also one of the countless buildings on campus still under remodeling as a result of the EF3 tornado that tripped through the Jacksonville community on March 19, students normally have to wait until the second or third week of classes to become fortunate enough to find a parking space within 500 yards of Martin Hall or McGee Science Center.
At Self Hall, if you aren’t a North resident with a green decal, good luck. Even if you do have the correct color decal, the chances of temporary fences, equipment trucks or tractor trailers taking up spots in that lot are higher than the temperature on the Burgess-Snow Field or Jim Bennett Field turfs during the early stages of August.
The solution, as crazy and it sounds, is let students park wherever they need to in order to successfully make it to class on time. Disregard the color system for at least this semester. Maybe even into the spring as most construction will still be ongoing by then. Let cars be parked along Trustee Circle. What about, while there are still workers and equipment trucks around, building another parking lot that students have been begging for?
Commuting students already have to deal with the city of Jacksonville deciding to repave Highway 21. Throw in on-campus residents, and those in apartments surrounding the western portion of campus, and it’ll be a worse traffic jam than traveling through Atlanta or Birmingham at 5 p.m. on a weekday. There has already been clashing between the community and university regarding housing the students, why make it worse by forcing students to find alternate parking locations because of something that is out of their hands? Oh, and most of the student housing buildings are still being repaired despite last Saturday marking the day students were allowed to move back in.
Close your eyes for a minute.
The parking lot in front of Pete Mathews Coliseum? Trailers.
The parking lot beside Mason Hall? Remodeling equipment.
The parking lot across from Wallace Hall? Trailers.
There was a trailer taking up parking spots in a lot behind Sparkman Hall Saturday evening. Same with Stone Center. Merrill Hall. Fitzpatrick Hall.
There is something everywhere.
There will be roughly 8,000 students attending Jacksonville State this semester. Hundreds still don’t have a place to live. Academic and housing buildings are being used despite ongoing construction. There already wasn’t enough parking before the tornado.
James Spann poses with Cocky before his presentation at the Leone Cole Auditorium on the campus of Jacksonville State University (Hollie Ivey, The Chanticleer)
Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief
“All it takes is one. [Jacksonville’s] April 27 is March 19”
Just four months after tornadoes ravaged the campus of Jacksonville State and the surrounding community, Alabama’s most famous TV meteorologist visited JSU to discuss his career, the March 19 Tornadoes and weather safety in today’s age.
James Spann, who began his television career in 1978 and moved to his current home, ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, in 1996, talked to a large crowd of JSU students, faculty and members of the Jacksonville community in Jacksonville State’s Leone Cole Auditorium Friday morning.
Spann says, that, while the March 19 storms unleashed carnage on the town, there is one very important silver lining.
“This is the one thing we can celebrate: I’m not showing you any faces. Nobody died that day,” Spann said. “Some of the things we learned in 2011 are starting to pay off.”
Spann refers to the April 27, 2011 Super Outbreak in Alabama, in which 62 tornadoes touched the ground and 252 people died.
Spann says that, although that day more than seven years ago was a terrible tragedy, it showed him a lot about how to reach people in times of crisis and taught citizens, including those in Jacksonville, to take severe weather coverage seriously.
“The people heard the warning, responded, and knew what to do,” Spann said of the Jacksonville community on the evening of March 19. “That is the way it should work. We should celebrate that.”
Spann says that days like April 27 and March 19 are why he does his job. “Your cumulative knowledge and experience will bring you to one or two days when all of it is needed.”
Spann also gave some tips for how to stay weather aware and safe, including avoiding relying on sirens, keeping a weather radio in your house, and downloading weather warning apps on your phone.