Daycare ripped apart by tornado is rebuilt bigger and better

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -  After an EF2 caused widespread damage throughout South Bend, one place hit hardest was the Growing Kids Learning Center on Ireland Road.

Well just over a year later, finally all the pieces are picked up and the new center is ready to reopen. 

“It was raining so hard it was unusually hard and then I went to look out our window down there and as soon as I opened up my garage door I saw this cloud of black just flying by," Shari Herman, one neighbor said.

On June 23rd, 2019 an EF2 tornado hit parts of South Bend, including Herman's home.

“Damaged our roof, a couple of outbuildings. About 50 trees," she said. "And then when we saw the daycare we just about died I mean it looked like a fist just came into the middle of it. It was just sad.”

“I saw videos on Facebook is how I found out. I remember realizing it was the daycare and running to my husband that was our daycare. Our daycare is destroyed," Priscilla Revard,  one parent who has two kids that go to the center said.

Growing Kids Learning Center was directly in the path of the tornado.

“To see the building spread over an acre was pretty disheartening. We were very thankful nobody was injured," Mike Garatoni, the President of the company said.

But the bigger challenge, Garatoni said, was finding a place for all of the kids and staff.

“We were able to figure out a plan and offered care to just about everybody, not quite 100%, but just about everybody at other growing kids locations by Wednesday," he said.

While some were able to move to the old Xavier school on Michigan Street, others had to drive a little farther.

“This year has been rough. I mean we got rerouted to Plymouth when it first happened because they just didn’t have room for everybody," Revard said. "Then we were blessed to be at the location on Michigan Street and it’s nice but their outside area is pretty much a parking lot.”

And now just over a year later, after long hours and working on the weekends, the new building is open for business.

“We added a few classrooms to reflect the typical demand we see at Growing Kids these days," Garatoni said. "Rooms are bigger, we have bigger windows. We still have a lot of bathrooms, bathrooms in every classroom.”

And many are excited for this new chapter.

“It’s been so fun to watch it come up and we miss the kid's voices and it’s kind of nice to know that’s coming soon," Herman said.

“I’ve seen pictures so we’re excited," Revard said.

The center is reopening this coming Monday the 27th. Wednesday the company held an open house for parents and their kids to come see the new establishment.

“So business as usual at Xavier until Friday when we close at 6 and then we will do a really quick really massive moving operation to move everything over the weekend to be ready Monday morning so there’s no loss for being open for parents, no inconvenience," Garatoni said.

And to keep students safe they are doing health screenings, temperature checks at the door. Masks are going to be worn and classroom groups will be separated.

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