When the news came out of Uvalde in late May that a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, Christopher Huckabee wanted to do something.

“It’s just shock and sadness – makes you very sad for what happened,” said Huckabee, CEO of the Huckabee architectural firm. “It makes you want to take action. It was trying to figure out how we can be a meaningful part of helping the community to recover from that.”

Huckabee started making phone calls and reached into his social network. He turned to what he does best — building schools.

The Fort Worth-based firm has over 50 years of experience in designing educational institutions, from K-12 schools to college campuses and has worked with Fort Worth ISD for over 20 years. The firm’s owners offered their services for free.

“There was no conceivable way children could go back into that building,” he said of the Uvalde elementary school. “The school district has to tear that school down. They have to build a new building. And I felt like we just had the tools to help them do that.”

Huckabee is one of several companies in Fort Worth that are providing services to build a new school to replace Robb Elementary, the site of the second-deadliest K-12 school shooting in the nation’s history. The architectural firm also is one of the founding donors of the nonprofit Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation to help collect funding for the project.

Huckabee expects his firm to spend about six months in the planning and design stage. Construction will begin afterward and is scheduled to take about 15 months. The new campus is set to open by the end of 2024.

The new school will be a community-driven project, Huckabee said. As part of the planning and design process, the firm will meet with Uvalde residents beginning in July to hear what they want for the new school. The firm will go as fast or slow as the community wants. 

“We’ll be very, very sensitive to the needs of the community,” he said.

Huckabee also reached out to two other Fort Worth companies — engineering firm Baird, Hampton & Brown, Inc. and security technology design business Crux Technology and Security Solutions — to join in the project. 

After Huckabee’s call, Ian Bost, principal of the engineering firm, brought the request before the company. All staff agreed that the firm should join Huckabee on the Uvalde project. Several of Bost’s employees, many of them who have children, stepped up to be directly involved, he said.

“The discussion in the room was how can we not,” Bost said.

Drew Deatherage, vice president at Crux Solutions, said the shooting hit close to home for the company.

“Being in the school security consulting market, any of these shootings, we almost take it personally,” Deatherage said. 

The security design staff hope its effort in the new school will restore the confidence of parents and children in Uvalde, Deatherage said. They want to ensure parents that they will be sending their children back to a safe environment to learn and grow, he said.

Fort Worth-based North Texas Community Foundation is working to help, too. Rose Bradshaw, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, said the organization is doing what it does best — support the cause through encouraging donations.

The donors who have contributed wanted to show solidarity with the victims’ families and to empathize with the Uvalde community, Bradshaw said. The donations to Uvalde say a lot about the city, she said.

“Fort Worth is an unbelievably philanthropic, generous community,” Bradshaw said. We not only take care of our own, but when we see others who are hurting, we want to help them, too. That’s Fort Worth.” 

Bradshaw hopes the collective effort from Fort Worth will give the Uvalde community a fresh start.

“This is a way Chris (Huckabee) and his team are giving not just money, but really giving up their best talent,” Bradshaw said.

Huckabee described the Uvalde project as the most emotional one the firm is taking on yet. The designers will pay special attention to the security functions of the new school.

What happened in Uvalde is a tragedy, Huckabee said, and it’ll be a long process for the community to heal.

Robb Elementary is permanently closed, according to the Uvalde school district. The district plans to demolish the building and replace it with a memorial park. Until then, Robb Elementary’s students will be placed in the district’s two other elementary schools in the fall, according to The Texas Tribune

Support for the new school poured in from across the state. Texas grocer H-E-B and the Butt family, who own the company, donated a combined $10 million to the Uvalde foundation. San Antonio-based construction company Joeris also will construct the new school. 

H-E-B, Joeris and Huckabee are the founding donors of the Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation. This is a small gesture to help Uvalde recover from this tragedy, Huckabee said.

“A lot of people around the state of Texas care very much about them and want to try to help them heal from this,” Huckabee said.

The foundation still needs to raise about another $10 million for labor and material cost for the new building, Huckabee said, but he’s confident about meeting that goal.

This is not the first time the architectural firm has stepped up to rebuild schools after a tragedy. The firm designed a combined middle and high school in West, about 20 miles north of Waco, after a fertilizer plant explosion in 2013. The explosion killed 15 people and injured more than 150 and destroyed the schools. 

Serving people in need is at the heart of Huckabee’s company.

“For us, at the end of the day, it’s a story of how we come together in the state of Texas to take care of one another,” he said.

Chongyang Zhang is a summer fellow reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at chongyang.zhang@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter

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Chongyang Zhang graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2021. Previously, he worked for his school newspaper, The Shorthorn, for a year and a half.