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State OKs funds for Enterprise schools

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — With a throng from Enterprise watching, the Alabama Legislature approved a record $32 million Tuesday to rebuild two tornado-ravaged schools in the city, where eight students were killed.

"We feel real good about where we are today," said Rep. Terry Spicer, whose district includes Enterprise.

After two weeks of bickering over the appropriation and other issues, the Senate voted 34-0 for the funding Tuesday and the House quickly concurred 100-0. The appropriation now goes to Gov. Bob Riley, who said he will sign it.

Enterprise Superintendent of Education Jim Reese watched the votes and said he's already making plans for his growing city to replace Enterprise High and Hillcrest Elementary with new schools larger than those destroyed by the tornado.

"The $32 million is a known quantity," he said.

After the disaster, the state Department of Education's architect estimated it would take $77 million to rebuild both schools at a new location with space for an extra 400 students and to build new athletic facilities. State officials had estimated it would take $47 million to $51 million to rebuild the two schools for their existing 1,900 students — 1,300 at Enterprise High, 600 at Hillcrest — at the same locations without new athletic facilities.

On March 13, Spicer, D-Elba, got the House to approve up to $79 million in state funding, with the agreement Enterprise would turn over to the state all money it received through insurance payments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But on Tuesday, the Senate approved a version of the bill that followed the state's more traditional approach for rebuilding destroyed schools. It appropriated a smaller amount but let the Enterprise school system keep all insurance and FEMA money.

State Sen. Jimmy Holley, whose district includes Enterprise, originally favored the $79 million version, but after talking with Enterprise officials, he encouraged the Senate to approve the $32 million version.

Holley, D-Elba, said the school system expects to get about $30 million from insurance and at least $5 million from FEMA for rebuilding. That totals $67 million — about $12 million short of the House version.

Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said the $32 million state appropriation is four times larger than the greatest amount ever provided by the state for rebuilding after a tornado. He said the local community, not the state, should pay the cost of expanding the schools.

"The state only has a responsibility to help them get back to where they were," Sanders said. "It's more than fair."

Students, parents and grandparents from Enterprise filled the House and Senate balconies to watch the votes.

Junior Chase Childs said he was grateful for the state help. "But we wish there wouldn't be so much bickering at the state Senate about helping us out."

Childs said high school students are making the best of temporary classrooms at Enterprise-Ozark Community College because the juniors and seniors know they won't have a permanent high school for their graduation.

"We named it Enterprise-Ozark Community High School," he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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