(TNS) — It's a race to Aug. 22 at Deweyville High School, where construction is underway to get 20 portable classrooms ready for the town's elementary students by the first day of school and where 30 volunteers are spending the week installing technology.
The volunteers, part of the national non-profit organization Information Technology Disaster Resource Center, are working on extending the high school's internet and phone communications from the main building to the portables. On Monday, they were setting up cables through the classrooms, with the goal of having the entire place wired and connected by the time the last volunteers leave Saturday.
The trip to Deweyville is the second for the volunteers, who were at the school in March in the immediate aftermath of the flooding. They supported recovery organizations working out of the high school and prepared computers for elementary school teachers and students to use while they temporarily moved into the building for the year.
Those computers were donated by LIT, Lamar and other local school districts including Vidor, Deweyville superintendent Kevin Clark said.
The volunteers wiped, reprogrammed and refurbished all the computers at no charge, Clark said.
The situation has given the volunteers a chance to use skills whose necessity can be overshadowed during a disaster by more obvious concerns like shelter and food.
"It takes a special person to work in a soup kitchen, and that kind of stuff, and I'm not that guy, but that doesn't mean I don't want to help," said Andrew White, a volunteer from Fort Worth and the resource area's regional director. "I've got 20 years of experience in IT, and being able to put that to use feels good."
Mary Leon, working on her first disaster project, said she appreciated the opportunity to put her skills to work in a familiar setting over her summer vacation. She works at a religious school in New Jersey, so "education is important to me," she said. "I could totally understand the need to get things ready like this.
"It's really hard work, spending a lot of time on the floor connecting things, which I don't do in my regular job, but it's very rewarding, working along some very knowledgeable people," she said.
The volunteers will be at the school all week, with some of their work dependent on other construction, like flooring in the classrooms and hallways. When it's done, they'll pack up their generators and command center in the gym and head back home.
The Region 5 Education Service Center also has provided technology and administrative help, which will last long after the volunteers leave this weekend.
"We were out here during the floods to get everything back together, and I imagine we will be out here until school starts," said Roy Lightfoot, who works in Network Operations for Region 5 and was working on updating and preparing computers on Monday.
This week's work alone is worth between $100,000 and $150,000, Hillis said, including donated equipment from the Satellite Broadcast and Communications Association. The donations mean one fewer expense for the district, which is facing a significant gap between the costs of rebuilding and their insurance coverage. To make ends meet, the district took out a loan and is hoping for help from the state.
"We've been told by Senator (Robert) Nichols and by Representative (James) White that they will come visit with us and that they will go back to Austin and they will do everything they can to try to get us some help," Clark said. The state "stepped up" with financial help when a fertilizer explosion destroyed the West Middle School in West, Texas in 2013, he said, and he hopes it will do the same for Deweyville.
The goal is for elementary students to be in the classrooms on their first day of school, Aug. 22, but rain and delayed electrical components could mean that they won't move in until later. All 650 of the district's students will be using the high school building until then, if necessary.
"There's going to be a lot of excitement" when they are ready, Clark said. "It's just disappointing that it may not happen on the 22nd, it may happen on the 29th, it may happen anywhere in between."
©2016 the Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.