Most Joplin Public Safe Rooms Nearly Complete

February 23, 2016

Thousands of students and residents in the Joplin area will have shelter during the upcoming severe weather season thanks to the construction of safe rooms that began after the deadly May 2011 tornado.

The Joplin Globe reported local school districts have spent more than $100 million on construction safe rooms since the tornado, which killed 161 people and destroyed schools, homes and businesses. Many of the safe rooms are finished, several others are expected to be ready soon and a few others won’t be ready until summer or early fall.


Joplin is finishing the final safe room at a public school. The structure at Columbia Elementary School will be used mostly as a gymnasium, storage space and new restrooms at the school, which was built in 1927. But the room will be open for the school and much of the neighborhood if needed, Principal Sarah Mwangi said. The shelter’s construction was delayed first by a historic review process because of the school’s age then by potential issues caused by previous mining activity on the initial proposed site.

“It’s taken a while, but I think in the end everyone will be really pleased,” Mwangi said.

Besides several safe rooms at Joplin schools, school districts in Webb City and Jasper in Missouri and Galena and Baxter Springs in Kansas have also constructed at least one community safe room since the tornado.

Three safe rooms at Carl Junction schools are expected to be ready by summer. A shelter at the K-1 building provide classroom space, while shelters at that will serve the 2-3 and intermediate buildings and the junior high and high schools will be a cafeteria/gymnasium and indoor sports arena, respectively. Protocols for using the rooms are being worked out but the latter two shelters will be open to the community during bad weather, said district spokeswoman Tracie Skaggs.

A $16.5 million bond issued paid for the three rooms and the district plans a grand opening ceremony when school starts in August, she said.

Diamond officials last month formally opened their new $3.4 million safe room, with a capacity of 1,300. In Carthage, safe rooms at Mark Twain and Pleasant Valley elementary schools were completed late last fall, while construction continues on safe rooms at Steadley, Columbian and Fairview elementary schools. The Seneca school district will begin construction on a $2.1 million safe room at the high school, with expected completion by October.

The Riverton, Kansas, school district recently authorized about $2.1 million for a project that will include four new classrooms that will double as safe rooms – three for elementary school students and one for middle school students.

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