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Tornado-damaged Murphy High School auditorium reopens in grand style

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When a tornado struck midtown Mobile on Christmas Day 2012, Murphy High School's auditorium was among the buildings severely damaged. More than three years later, the Lois Jean Delaney Auditorium reopened this past Thursday night with a red-carpet welcome to guests attending the Mobile County Public Schools' It Starts With Us Awards honoring top teachers, students and community partners.

Designed by prominent Mobile architect George B. Rogers and built in 1926, the Art Deco-style building now features modern lighting and sound equipment and is handicapped-accessible. New details include wrought-iron end caps on the seat, six beautiful chandeliers and a classic navy blue stage curtain and window sconces.

"Not only are we gathering to honor our partners, our teachers and our students, but we are also honoring a commitment we made following the tornado," said Mobile County Public Schools Superintendent Martha Peek. "We are honoring a commitment to the faculty, staff and students that we would see Murphy's auditorium, and soon the entire campus of the historic Murphy High School, reopen to all its glory."

Nicholas Holmes Jr., a Murphy graduate and an architect who worked on the project, received an award Thursday night. Though he couldn't attend the ceremony, he said, in a letter read onstage by his son, Nic Holmes III, that for many years the auditorium was the best house in Mobile.

"Stars from the stages of New York and Hollywood brought their magic here and won standing ovations," he wrote. "We are happy to report that this theater is now back in condition to assist the greatest of the world's performers in displaying their arts."

The tornado had knocked off about 40 percent of the roof of the 850-seat auditorium - including the Spanish tiles - causing water to fill the balcony and overflow into the entire auditorium. Everything had to be removed from the building.

Because of the severe damage to Murphy's campus, students finished the 2012-13 school year in portable classrooms at Clark-Shaw School of Math and Science. A new band room has since been built, and renovations remain underway to the main building and other academic buildings.

The Alabama Legislature contributed $15 million to the repair work.

Senior Everett Coleman, who hosted the awards ceremony, said he has many fond memories of the auditorium from his freshman year. "I remember Christmas night seeing the tornado pass my house and head toward Murphy," he said. "That next morning, my family and I drove to the school and saw the devastating damage. ... It was heartbreaking."

But, he added, "Standing here tonight, being able to once again speak on this stage and to see this auditorium filled with all these wonderful people almost brings me to tears. I can't think of a better way to end my senior year."

During the It Starts With Us Awards, school officials honored Teachers of the Year from all 90 schools, as well as the countywide Elementary Teacher of the Year, Stacey Davis of St. Elmo Elementary, and Secondary Teacher of the Year, Bonnie Howard of Hankins Middle.

The district honored 50 student finalists with "It Starts With Me" awards for being leaders in and out of the classroom as well as four overall "It Starts With Me" winners: Virginia Winsor of Mary B. Austin Elementary; Jordan Hobbs of Old Shell Road School of Performing Arts; Conner Shepard of Lott Middle; and Jonathan Kendall of Citronelle High.

School officials named Outokumpu Stainless as Partner of the Year and recognized partnerships with The Greater Mobile Chapter of The Links Inc.; USA Health System; the U.S. Attorneys Office, FBI and Mobile Police Department; Mobile Symphony; Holmes and Holmes Architects; and Austal USA. And it honored three individuals: Lt. Col. Robert "Frank" Barrow, Bob Grip and Carol Statter.

Murphy students in the band, chorus and dance programs provided entertainment for the packed house.

The awards show was televised live on mcpssTV and will re-run on the channel, available via Comcast, AT&T U-verse and mcpssthewire.com.

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Source : http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2016/05/mobiles_murphy_high_school_aud.html

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