ONE YEAR LATER: Tallulah Academy continues to rebuild after tornado

Published 2:34 pm Thursday, June 15, 2023

It has been more than a year since a tornado caused significant damage to the Tallulah Academy building on March 30, 2022.

Since then, students have attended classes in portable buildings while a large portion of the school is being rebuilt.

Betina Finlayson has been the principal of the school since Jan. 3, 2022, months before the tornado struck.

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“My teachers have rolled,” she said. “We all want our school back. But you know what? I’ve got a great faculty and staff. They’ve adjusted.”

Winds hit 150 mph when the tornado struck the school. A large portion of the metal roof over the gymnasium was peeled off and heavy water damage occurred throughout the high school portion of the building. Fortunately, the school had closed for the day due to severe weather warnings and it was unoccupied at the time.

Afterward, the community stepped up to help. Students, teachers, parents, other schools, churches and other community members all pitched in to help the school.

Finlayson said since then, major work was done in preparation for the reconstruction of the school. The demolition portion of the project was recently finished. Several parents worked to reclaim materials that could be sold for scrap. Others began a salvage effort to refurbish wooden floorboards in the library that sustained water damage. Finlayson said she is hopeful that they will be able to reuse those boards in the new library when it is constructed.

Finlayson was also happy to report that the foundation of the gymnasium is still in perfectly good condition and will not have to be repoured.

“We had anticipated taking up (the gymnasium foundation),” she said. “They even had an excavator on it, and it didn’t even crack it. So we’re going to leave the foundation, which will save us money.”

Now the gymnasium is a steel frame with a metal roof and no walls, almost ready for construction and repair work to begin, which Finlayson said she expects in the next month or two. A significant portion of the building, including the library, was removed as well and will be rebuilt.

Finlayson said that a great many organizations are helping the current class at the school, including the local public school district in Madison Parish.

“We were able to play six of our nine basketball games at the Madison Middle School gymnasium. They allowed us to use their track to have some track and field events,” she said. “It shows you that public or private, at the end of the day, we’re all about one thing, and that’s the kids, what’s best for our kids.”