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Louisa officials, students, state legislators break ground for elementary school's post-quake replacement
Teachers, parents, students and officials gather Thursday to break ground for the new Jefferson Elementary.
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BY LINDLEY ESTES
Laura Moore and Amy Ziros hadn't been to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in 14 months, since it was destroyed by the magnitude-5.8 earthquake that hit Mineral.
During the earthquake, one of the school's walls separated from the roof, the entire structure cracked and the ceiling tiles rained down on students and staff.
Its stairwell was so blocked by tiles that teachers had to carry students over the debris.
Now, there's nothing left of the school but a big concrete slab.
Moore, the school's counselor, and Ziros, its librarian, walked across the concrete Thursday, trying to identify where their rooms were.
"It's weird without the walls," said Moore.
The two came back for the groundbreaking of the new Thomas Jefferson Elementary, set to open in 2014.
The building will cost $13.5 million to construct.
Also destroyed in Louisa was Louisa County High School. Rebuilding it will cost $42 million.
The new Thomas Jefferson Elementary will use the same plans as Louisa's recently constructed Moss-Nuckols Elementary School.
Also in attendance Thursday were members of the School Board and the Chamber of Commerce and Louisa County Schools administrators and staff members.
State Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg; Del. Peter Farrell, R-Louisa; and Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, also attended the ceremony.
Garrett attended school in Louisa. Every school he attended from grades five through 12 are no longer standing, he said.
"It's surreal to stand 20 feet from where my mom used to drop me off in fifth grade," Garrett said.
The three senators drafted a state budget amendment that secured extra aid for Louisa's schools after the earthquake.
"They more than deserved it," Reeves said. "In 15 seconds, these students' lives were changed."
Ranae Lieffer, 8, was swinging on Thomas Jefferson Elementary's playground when the earthquake hit.
"It was scary," she recalled at Thursday's groundbreaking. "All of the sudden, the earth started shaking. I was scared to death. The swings were moving sideways."
For now, Ranae and the rest of the students from Thomas Jefferson Elementary are attending school in mobile units outside Trevilians Elementary.
Ranae will attend the new Thomas Jefferson Elementary if it is completed on time.
Another student, Zachary Heidel, 11, also attended the groundbreaking.
Zachary said he has a brick from the demolished elementary school to remind him of what happened.
"In some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago," schools Superintendent Deborah Pettit said in her address before the groundbreaking.
Pettit and the event's other speakers--Willie Harper, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and School Board Chairman Gregory Strickland--all commented on the community's strength and how people came together so the school year could continue even after the two schools were destroyed.
"It's been a hard road at times, but moments like this make it come together," Harper said.
Candace Wilkerson, the principal of Thomas Jefferson Elementary, said the school's replacement is bittersweet for her.
She started as an assistant principal three years ago at Thomas Jefferson.
"That building meant something to me," Wilkerson said. "The rebuild is exciting, but it was sad to see the old building go. It's weird to drive by and see nothing here."
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976