Prairie Grove School To Build Storm Shelter

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The Prairie Grove School District has received a grant of almost $1 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to pay for the construction of a safe room.

The multi-purpose safe room structure is in the planning stages, but once it's complete, it will be able to withstand wind speeds up to 250 miles per hour or an EF5 Tornado, school administrators said.

If severe weather strikes during the day, the shelter will be for staff and students. However, the shelter can be used by the community outside of school hours.

"We have received approval and the funds are set aside, so it's just a matter of when we start the project," said Allen Williams, Prairie Grove superintendent.

Williams said construction will cost $1.25 million, and the federal grant covers 75 percent. The safe room will have space for 800 people.

"It would cover the amount of students on that particular campus," Williams said. "It would be difficult to transport all of our students (from other campuses) to that location with the notice you get on that kind of warning."

Williams said the safe room will be built attached to a new primary school, which administrators hope gets funding approval soon. The current 50-year-old primary school, which houses kindergarten through second grade, is set for demolition.

Williams said the district plans to construct a new building and connect the safe room for grades kindergarten through fourth.

"You don't have to go outside," said Kristi Hassell, library media specialist for the primary school. "You can go straight to it."

The current safety plan in place when there's severe weather is to transport students to the safest parts of the building. Administrators put that plan into place earlier this spring during severe weather.

"We pulled them off the buses, put them in the hallways and it was a little bit scary, but everything was OK," Hassell said.

The weather that time didn't turn for the worst for Prairie Grove, but teachers and moms like April Purett said anything to increase safety is a welcomed relief.

"Right now, we don't have a very good place to put the children," Purett said. "We put them in the hallway, and I think a storm shelter would be great."

Even though the school district had already secured FEMA funds for the safe room, the deadly tornado in Moore, Okla., raised awareness on the importance of a safe room.

"It's just tragic to think about a storm like that hitting a school, and it would certainly I think put folks at ease if we had that kind of shelter," Williams said.

The school district said its safe room is expected to be complete in about two years, by fall 2015.