It's going to take a little time, but Ringgold students will be coming home.
Rumors of rezoning and rebuilding came to a halt this week as officials announced the tornado-damaged Ringgold Middle and Ringgold High schools could be repaired enough for classes to start there in the fall.
All Catoosa County students will start school on Sept. 6, about a month later than usual, to give contractors time to patch up the viable parts of the Ringgold buildings before allowing students back in.
After weeks spent recovering from the April 27 tornadoes that ravaged Ringgold, some in the community say returning to the original schools - as opposed to starting from scratch with new buildings - is exactly what students need.
"[The students] went through a lot this year. I think it's healing, as well as trying to keep things the same," said Bridget Bandy, whose son, Skyler Garrison, will start sixth grade at Ringgold Middle in the fall.
"Everything was thrown off track. Going back to something that was there before the storm is a great idea," Bandy said.
The eighth- and sixth-grade wings were the most damaged by the tornado, said Damon Raines, Catoosa County Schools' director of operations. By the end of August, the sixth-grade wing should be repaired and the eighth-grade wing demolished as sixth- and seventh-graders return to the middle school.
Eighth-graders will join the high schoolers at Ringgold High after the roof has been replaced, Raines said.
Before Heritage High School was built several years ago, Ringgold Middle housed about 1,800 students, Raines said. After Heritage was built, Ringgold's enrollment dropped to about 1,000, so there still is extra space in the building to accommodate the eighth-graders, he said.
Raines said he was surprised at how much of Ringgold Middle is still structurally sound.
"The first time I saw it, I thought we were just going to have to level the entire building," he said.
He, too, said he is glad to see most students going back to their regular schools this fall.
"Anything we can do to get our kids back to a sense of normalcy, we're going to do that," he said.
Although students will be in class fewer days next school year, elementary students will meet seat-time requirements without any change to their school day, schools spokeswoman Marissa Brower said.
The school day for middle and high school students across the county will be extended by about 15 minutes, ending at 3:45 p.m., to help them meet requirements, Brower said.
Fall and spring breaks will remain the same, as will the last day of school on May 25. Athletic and band programs will run on a normal schedule, Brower added.
After a special meeting Tuesday of the Catoosa County Board of Education, Superintendent Denia Reese issued a prepared statement.
"I appreciate this community for understanding the challenges we have faced and for supporting the decisions we have made. I appreciate Heritage for graciously hosting our Ringgold students, and personally, I am thrilled that with a few modifications we can bring the Blue Nation home to begin school next year."