Ground Breaks On New Elementary School One Year After Goodman Tornado

GOODMAN, Mo. (KFSM) -- Neosho School District administrators broke ground on a new elementary school Wednesday (April 4) to replace the one destroyed during an EF2 tornado exactly one year ago.

The small community is located about 20 miles north of Benton County.

Following the tornado, Goodman Elementary students were split between four schools in the district before they were reunited this past fall in an empty wing of the middle school in Neosho.

The absence of a school, has left many Goodman residents feeling lost. Many say the elementary was the heart of their town.

Mother Crystal Fleet lives three doors down from what was Goodman Elementary, but now been transformed into an empty lot. The day of the tornado will likely follow her for years.

"[We] just got done doing a mini drill with my kids, it was tornado season. We all know that; be prepared," Fleet said. "Being it was my birthday, we we're sitting down for ice cream cake."

Around that time, the nearby tornado siren sounded. Fleet and her boyfriend grabbed her children and stuffed them under a bunk bed in the middle of their home.

The tornado ripped through her back yard as it tore through the elementary school. The family made it out unscathed.

When they went to survey the damage left behind, she was left speechless.

"It was heart breaking," Fleet said. "All the damage to the school; you could see literally into classrooms."

Following demolition, a wave of uncertainty spread over whether the district would rebuild in Goodman. Fleet said that was affirmed several months back.

Samantha Hamilton, principal of Goodman Elementary, was behind getting the community involved in Wednesday's ground breaking celebration.

"If I heard once today, I heard it 75 times, that the community is so thankful," Hamilton said. "They're just so thankful, because it's drowning down there without us right now. That's for sure."

Hamilton has steered her school through the chaos of the last year. As a reminder and a memento, old bricks were pulled from the rubble and personalized for teachers and staff.

"It just symbolizes a piece of the past that's not forgotten," Hamilton said.

To date, many homes, once damaged, have been repaired, though reminders of the storm are still evident throughout the community.

Construction is underway on a new fire station to replace one badly damaged in the tornado.

Though the new school isn't expected to open until Fall 2019, Fleet hopes it will bring a renewed energy to an otherwise tired town.

"To have the elementary school come back," Fleet paused. "It's the biggest community spot for our little town. Other than that, there's nothing else here."