Lamar County School District officials are hoping an emergency declaration for the softball complex at Sumrall High School will expedite that site’s recovery from the EF3 tornado that barreled through the area in December, tearing off the backstop, knocking down the bleachers and sending pieces of lumber through the building.
The school district’s board of trustees voted unanimously during Monday’s board meeting to declare the emergency, which district superintendent Tess Smith said will give her more leeway to make purchases in a more timely fashion.
“It gives me a little more freedom to purchase the bleachers and to move forward with other things, because we need those girls back on that field by mid to late February,” Smith said. “So this just allows me a little more freedom to be able to do that.”
The storm ripped up the netting from the backstop – which is responsible for catching foul balls that may head into the stands behind home plate – necessitating major repairs to the grounds.
“All of that has to be replaced, and some of those posts are down into the ground 7 or 8 feet, so that’ll have to be dug up,” Smith said. “Probably part of the sidewalk will need to be redone, and that will be a significant part of the project.
“They need to do a little work in the concessions stand and the bathrooms right there. They may have to rent some equipment here and there, but our guys feel like they can handle the field and the concession stands themselves.
“As soon as that’s done, they’ll begin to focus on the workout facility,” said Smith.
If all goes according to plan, Smith would like to have the work done by at least the end of February, in time for a scheduled softball tournament at the site.
“So far, weather would be a factor, but we just feel like we’re going to be able to get that done by mid-February or tournament time,” she said. “(The insurance) is doing a great job … and this project is coming together.”
The tornado hit on the evening of Dec. 16, touching down near the south end of town at Mississippi 589 and traveling about 6 miles before ending north of Mississippi 42.
In addition to damage at the softball complex, the storm hit several other homes and facilities in the area, including some houses near the Hudson Farm on Poplar Street and a few off Rocky Branch Road.
The American Legion Post 61 building on Mississippi 589 was heavily damaged, along with the city’s sports complex off Mississippi 42 and the nearby shopping center.
One of the hardest-hit locations was the Douglas Graham Group home, from which seven residents were hospitalized with minor injuries after the tornado tore off the roof and knocked over a wall at one of the buildings.
The seven individuals were later released in good condition.
“One of the houses (at the group home) was completely destroyed – the roof is off and one of the walls is just leaning outward,” Sen. Joey Fillingane said the day after the storm. “The one closer to the highway, they’re still trying to assess, and they have people from the Department of Finance and Administration here looking at that.
“It has a lot of structural damage, so I’m not sure they’ll be able to put it back up without having to tear it down and start over. The bad thing is, even though the state has insurance coverage on it, I’m told that there’s a $500,000 deductible, so the state is still going to have to come up with a half a million dollars to access the insurance because of the deductible situation.”