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After hectic year, Crosby officials optimistic moving forward

Kaila ContrerasMay 23, 2019

From a financial crisis with the school district, to chemical fires, to the President of the United States setting foot in “Cougar Country,” Crosby has had several major events that placed the town squarely on an emotional rollercoaster, residents and officials said.

The events forced the community members to band together to do what was best for Crosby, said David Givans, one of the founders of Code Red Community on Facebook.

“The generosity of this community is remarkable. People in Crosby and Barrett Station really take care of each other and will do just about anything to fill a need - especially when it comes to taking care of our students and teachers,” Crosby ISD Superintendent Scott Davis said.

The Code Red Community Facebook page, a forum where residents can have general questions answered or the latest updates on major matters, was created in response to a financial crisis that forced Crosby ISD to lay off more than 100 employees, including teachers. There are now more than 3,500 members.

Members of the Code Red Community have had a front seat to the changes in Crosby over the last year, Givans said.

POTUS lands in Crosby

The community’s excitement was palpable when President Donald Trump came to Crosby on April 10 to sign two executive orders that will benefit energy-related projects and production. Shades of red, white and blue were plenty, residents said.

Parents like Givans got their kids out of school early to witness the historic event.

CROSBY ON THE MAP: Trump’s visit brings large crowd to Crosby

“The entire check-out sheet — on every name ahead of mine the reason for leaving said ‘Trump’ or something to that effect,” Givans said.

Givans also described the event as a mood-booster after an incident in the area occurred nine days prior, which killed one and injured two —the KMCO chemical plant fire. KMCO is one of the largest employers in the area.

KMCO explosion rocks Crosby

Much like the president’s arrival, what happened at the Ramsey Road facility put the small northeast Houston town in the national eye. One employee, James Earl “Bubba” Mangum, was killed and two others were critically injured.

Givans rushed to pick up his daughter at the Crosby Kindergarten Center. The school is next to the chemical plant.

“I was in front of the Kindergarten Center within three minutes of that blast, believe it or not,” he said. “By then they already had the kindergarten locked down and the constable that was there wouldn’t let me in. The principal was there, and she called me on my cell and she said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry but I can’t let her go.’ I said that’s fine, and I went and got my son.”

CROSBY FIRE: One dead in fire at KMCO chemical plant 

During the KMCO fire, Crosby ISD placed all of their schools on lockdown until it was deemed safe to let their students out.

Kim Harris, president of the Crosby-Huffman Chamber of Commerce, couldn’t reach her brother-in-law while the fires were still raging. He is an employee there — in fact most community members have a connection to the plant, she said.

Since the chamber office was a mile away from KMCO, she got a close view of the rising smoke conjured by “a sudden, acute failure in a piping component that caused a release of isobutylene, which ignited minutes later,” said Michael Kehs, a spokesperson on behalf of KMCO, in a statement on May 8.

“We’re there for them if they need us,” Harris said, referring to all KMCO employees. No one there had reached out to her organization for additional assistance, which is understandable, she said, as the incident is still under investigation.

Davis applauded district employees on their quickness and responsiveness in placing the schools on lockdown and communicating with parents and first responders.

The district was already preparing for this possibility.

“The KMCO incident last month was an opportunity for us to put into practice some of the safety processes that we have been reviewing for the past year. In August of 2018, we completed a major update of our Emergency Operations Plan that outlines procedures for a variety of emergency situations. We have had many safety meetings and have made a conscious effort to focus on student safety to prepare for moments such as the KMCO explosion,” Davis said.

LAWSUIT: KMCO officials aware of valve leak before chemical plant explosion

Events at KMCO reminded residents of an explosion at Arkema, a Crosby-based chemical plant that also caught fire on Aug. 31, 2017, not long after Hurricane Harvey. About 300 homes were evacuated and more than 30 people, including members of law enforcement, were hospitalized.

Harris County officials said Arkema cared more about their production and profit than the people.

It was discovered the company’s emergency plan provided little direction for employees on how to handle major floods and was not able to keep its combustible organic peroxides cool.

The French company faced a lawsuit of up to $1 million from Harris County for violating a long list of environmental, safety and building regulations and putting first responders at risk.

Financial crisis hampers Crosby ISD

There was a different sort of situation at Crosby ISD when, in October 2018, news spread that the district declared a financial exigency . Facing a $5.5 million deficit, the district had to make some hard decisions — downsizing the general budget and laying off 105 people.

At the time, Davis said one of the hardest things he had to do was deciding which employees to let go to save the budget. A majority of them have found new positions, he added. Davis was in his first year as superintendent. Declaring a financial crisis was one of his first major moves as leader of the district.

RELATED: Crosby ISD declares financial emergency to allow mid-year layoffs

During the six months of financial exigency, local businesses, nonprofits and community members donated either money or time to save their beloved school district.

“The generosity of this community is remarkable,” Davis said.

Then, a jaw-dropping event, community members said. In February, Keith Moore , the former Crosby ISD superintendent, came to a financial audit hearing in February 2019 to apologize to the community.

He also explained to a packed room how the financial crisis occurred. Some thought Moore coming to the meeting was a courageous move. Others, meanwhile, only had more questions.

“My first thought was that either (Moore) was extremely courageous or extremely bold or unintelligent; it’s one of the three,” Givans said … “I was definitely impressed that he was there and he was willing to step up and say (what he said) and take the brunt of the public opinion.”

Moore said after the meeting he will no longer seek a career in education again.

LOCAL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: Demand high for Crosby Crawfish Shack’s well known taste

Dan Meaux co-owns the Crawfish Shack restaurant with his wife Jen and serves on the Crosby Education Foundation. He said that local businesses were spared from the crisis.

“The impact of the financial situation in the district is probably the biggest impact, but, hopefully we don’t lose the development that’s happening. Hopefully the developers don’t back out, the home developers, and I don’t think that is happening. I think our district will continue to rebound financially as well as with growth,” he said.

Crosby ISD ended their financial exigency in March.

Continuing the recovery

Despite all the major events that occurred, Harris of the Crosby-Huffman Chamber of Commerce thought that they strengthened the bond of the community. Code Red Community’s Givans echoed the thought.

“We’ve since become friends because we live in the same place, and we have common interests, but we never would have met otherwise,” he said. “It’s brought the community together on more than just the school. It’s brought the community together on tons of issues.”

Davis said Crosby ISD is still transitioning into the “new normal” after that all the changes. Elements that stayed the same, though? Respect, loyalty and kindness.

“Crosby ISD is still in a period of recovery,” he said, “but there are great days ahead for Crosby ISD.”

Reporters Nguyen Le and Elliott Lapin contributed to this article.

kaila.contreras@chron.com

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