WEST LIBERTY — The walls of the former warehouse-turned-school are freshly painted. Its classrooms are equipped with projectors. Its clinic and cafeteria are cleaned and ready. And, just down the main hall, its library has just received a new shipment from Woodford County.
Four Girl Scouts and their mothers delivered 4,272 books to the school, where librarian Frances Gulley received them with tears in her eyes.
"Saying thank you is not enough for you all thinking of us," Gulley said as the girls, teachers and volunteers gathered in the newly remodeled library.
On March 1, a tornado roared through Morgan County, killing six people, destroying much of Main Street and rendering the elementary school useless. But within weeks, West Liberty Elementary was reborn in a former industrial building.
"There's no rhyme or reason why it hit the areas that it did," Gulley said Monday. "When it came downtown, it just stayed on Main Street and wiped everything out. But luckily, those were the businesses; those weren't homes."
After the storms hit, miles away in Woodford County, Kaylee Collins, 12, and her friends were brainstorming community-service projects. Then they saw the images of destruction from West Liberty.
"We thought about all the textbooks that were gone there," she said. "We had to do something."
Collins joined Bailey Bird, 12, and sisters Katelyn Melcher, 10, and Emily Melcher, 13, in spearheading the collection in April. The girls went everywhere — schools, churches, book fairs — to place collection boxes and promote the cause.
It wasn't long before the book drive took on a life of its own, said Bailey's mother, Tonya.
"When the girls started out, they were talking about how many they wanted to collect, and we kind of came up with we would try for 500 to 1,000, and then people kept saying, 'We have more books for you to pick up,'" Tonya Bird said.
The project earned the girls a Silver Award from the Girl Scouts, the second-highest honor a Girl Scout can receive.
"These girls were excited that we could rally all of our troops together and have them pull together to do this," Tonya Bird said.
She said she'd like to work with the school's family resource director, Heather Bryant, to coordinate future projects.
"Some of them say they like this building better," she said, laughing.
Bryant said she plans to keep in contact with Tonya Bird. She said the town, with volunteer help from all over the country in the aftermath of the storm, is looking better every day. Construction of a new elementary school had begun before the tornado hit, and the school is on track to open in December 2013.
"I've heard different people say, 'Oh, our town was blown away,' but I think after everything's happened, the town's not buildings, it's all the people," Bryant said.
See the how far the community has come. This footage shows the devastation of downtown days after the storm.