By Floyd Ingram
HOULKA – The school bell rang sharply at 8 a.m. Wednesday and children filed into classrooms at Chickasaw County schools exactly one week after fire destroyed fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms.
The blackened remains of the Houlka Attendance Center were fenced off to keep students out of the old school building that burned to ground in the space of three hours July 30.
“It was a typical first day of school and there were mix-ups and not everything went smoothly,” said Superintendent Betsy Collums. “But teachers were prepared and ready and all in all I think things went rather well.”
The district spent the last week shuffling classrooms and sent four classes of fifth- and sixth-graders back to an annex they used several years ago.
The fire also destroyed several classrooms used by high school students and the district auditorium. Students were sent into rooms vacant during off-periods for teachers at the high school.
New Houlka High School Principal William Cotton said he was pleased the district chose not to bring in trailers or house students off campus.
“We’ve got everybody here with teachers meeting students for the first time, taking roll and getting started,” said Cotton. “Give us a couple of days and teachers will be teaching and students will be learning as usual, even though we are minus a building.”
Cotton did point out students met in the gym rather than the auditorium for a first-day, school-wide assembly. Students were specifically told to stay away from the burned-out building and how the fire would affect the school year.
Houlka Attendance Center, built in 1935, was made of old red brick with a pine floor. It was undergoing a renovation of its tall, individually paned windows and of both heat and electrical systems when it caught fire.
Chickasaw County School Board members were told by their insurance carrier this week they had two years to design, build and occupy a new building. The district could pick an architect as early as next week.
Collums said the district planned for 500 students on Wednesday. She said about 140 saw their classes directly affected by the fire.
“I can’t thank this community enough for all they have done,” said Collums. “We had volunteers up here this week moving books and desks for our junior high students to use.”
Collums also said the teachers are getting the job done.
“We’ve moved a lot of things around to make things fit and I’m so proud of our staff,” said Collums. “In spite of all we have been through our teachers met students at the door with a smile on their face.”