DISASTER READY: Area Schools Evaluate Facilities

The destruction left by the tornado in Oklahoma leads to questions around the country and around the Des Moines metro. Are our schools safe?

Ankeny Centennial opens in August.

“Places that might in some schools be spec’d out as wallboard,” says district spokesman, Jarrett Peterson, “we’ve got quite a few interior masonry walls.”

Peterson says Centennial is built with fire, tornadoes and lockdowns in mind.

“This would be one of our locker room areas…bathrooms, smaller areas once again that are block construction…and these would be shelter areas for tornadoes.”

The no-nonsense functions are easy to spot, at this stage…thick walls, low ceilings…function over form.

Even before Oklahoma, people recognized the huge glass facade in Johnston High School’s first design as a problem in the event of a tornado. Superintendent Clay Guthmiller says the architects went back to work.

“Reducing, probably, the amount of glazing or glass that you would have in this building,” he said. “We’ve also tried to incorporate what I would say is, are, larger areas where we don’t have windows.”

But with budget constraints…

“It’s hard to develop a space where you’re gonna, you know, contain 1,800 students in a safe room.”

Valley High School has done just that.

The new basement weight room and wrestling room can withstand 250 MPH wins. The steel ceiling and concrete walls are designed to resist a missile strike. Valley feels safe and it is.

It wouldn’t have been built without a $1.7 billion grant from FEMA. After seeing what’s possible, you can bet more districts will see FEMA dollars.

“I mean, I believe the people in Johnston would be and many other districts would be supportive of trying to incorporate those things and perhaps even having to spend a little bit more money to do that.”

With Johnston’s bond election on June 25th, it’s too late to request more money to build a FEMA-certified tornado shelter, but if that bond is approved, Johnston says it CAN apply for the FEMA grant, and will work with architects to continue refining the design.

This kind of reality prompts changes on the fly.

“Every time there’s some kind of national event like this,” said Peterson,” and new information comes in, it’s a new opportunity to really take that and look at it and see how you can improve for the future.”

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