By Susan Redden
JASPER, Mo. —
A new storm shelter in the Jasper School District is serving a variety of needs for the school system and the community.
The shelter was opened to the community at a recent public event. It’s been “in full use” by the district since students returned from Christmas break, said Superintendent Rick Stark.
The new building has a capacity to shelter more than 1,600 people during a tornado, and it is in daily use by the district as a cafeteria and an auxiliary gymnasium.
The shelter connects the elementary and high school buildings, with outdoor access from the high school and a breezeway connecting the elementary school building.
“So, along with everything else, putting it between the two buildings closes in the campus and improves security,” Stark said.
He said residents have reacted positively to the addition. Specifically, the shelter is to serve the school and those living in a “tornado protection zone” in a radius around the campus. Stark said he didn’t think there would be a capacity problem in serving the community and the 460 students in the district.
“It has a capacity of 1,615, and Jasper has a population of a little over 900,” he said. “So we should be able to handle what comes our way. And it certainly makes our tornado drills easier; everybody goes there.”
In addition to holding an open house, the district has sent letters to those living within the zone to inform them of the safe room. The information includes a map of the tornado protection zone and a safe room floor plan, along with information that residents are asked to fill out and return if they have physical impairments or medical needs that would need to be accommodated if they used the safe room. The shelter is equipped with an emergency generator in the event of a power outage.
Stark said Cathy Fall, the previous school superintendent, started work on a grant for the shelter about two years before he arrived at the district in June 2011.
“It started before the Joplin tornado, but that might have speeded up the paperwork,” he said.
He said the district received a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and combined that money with school funds and revenue from a lease-purchase agreement for a $2.5 million project including the shelter, a new kitchen, weight room and offices. The previous weight room was demolished, and the old cafeteria is being renovated into four classrooms and a small office area.
Branco Enterprises, of Neosho, is the general contractor on the project.
WHEN THE CLASSROOM RENOVATIONS are completed later this year, Superintendent Rick Stark said, the district will be able to get rid of three leased trailers being used as classrooms. That will leave one, which is used for preschool classes, he said.