Since a tornado devastated Joplin in 2011, more than $100 million has been spent by school districts in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas to provide safe rooms for students, staff and patrons during severe weather, according to a newspaper analysis.
When all the districts’ current or proposed safe room projects are completed, more than 40,000 people will have access to a safe room, based on projected maximum occupancy rates of the shelter, the Joplin Globe reported.
School districts – including Joplin, Webb City and Jasper in Missouri, and Galena and Baxter Springs in Kansas – have built at least one community safe room since the tornado. Crews are working in many other districts to complete or start construction on safe rooms. And the Riverton, Kansas, district recently decided to put a bond issue on April’s ballot that would include funds for storm shelters.
Many of the districts received Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for the projects.
“The Joplin tornado woke a lot of people up,” said Riverton superintendent Todd Berry, who added that a 2013 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, also got people’s attention. The Joplin tornado hit on a Sunday night but the one in Moore struck an elementary school during the school day, killing seven students.
Ten community shelters have opened in the past year in Joplin and another four will open later this year. Most of the safe rooms are used as gymnasiums during the school day and are monitored during non-school hours. Already, about 100 to 150 people have come to the completed safe rooms in more populated areas during inclement weather, said Jim Hounschell, director of safety and security.
“Most everybody in this community was affected in one way or another by the tornado, and where they may not have taken it as seriously before when we had bad weather come through, I think it just shows that everybody is certainly taking it seriously and relieved that they have places where they can go,” he said.
A safe room is under construction in the nearby Diamond School District, where 11 miles of farmland and houses were damaged by the 2011 tornado, district Superintendent Mike Mabe said. Surveillance camera images showing swirling debris in the hallways in the former Joplin High School prompted district officials to seek a $3 million bond issue to build the room at an elementary school, particularly because schools had typically sent students and staff into hallways during tornadoes.
“If we could do something about it, then let’s do it,” Mabe said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
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