WEBB CITY, Mo. —
Students, school leaders, city and state officials, and community members gathered Wednesday at two Webb City schools to celebrate the groundbreaking for two safe rooms, part of a $20 million effort funded partially by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and partially by local taxpayers.
“It is a big day for us,” said Superintendent Tony Rossetti after the afternoon ceremony at Webb City Middle School. “It took us two and a half years to get to this point.”
Rossetti was referring to planning for the project that began even before the May 22, 2011, Joplin tornado, when board members had initial conversations with Paragon Architecture of Springfield about safe rooms.
The tornado and its aftermath ramped up interest, which led to an application for a FEMA grant to help build six safe rooms at buildings throughout the school district. The district was overwhelmed, said school board member Lisa Robinson, when word came that FEMA would provide funding for all. Then this year, the district learned that FEMA would provide funding for a seventh safe room to be built at Carterville Elementary.
“It was almost disbelief,” Robinson said after the ceremony at Webb City Middle School. “Disbelief that you can protect almost your entire school population and the community as well.”
Robinson’s three children attend three buildings in the district.
“It means the world to me to know my kids will be safe at school,” she said. “We have a safe room at home, so we know they’re safe there. After seeing videos of what can happen in schools, it’s quite frightening. With Joplin, we dodged a bullet not having that happen on a weekday when kids were at school. Now, we know they’ll be safe even if it does.”
At the middle school, the safe room will be built as a band and music room, and will be rated for an EF-5 tornado. When it is complete next year, the classrooms currently used by the band and music program will become available for additional classroom space, Rossetti said.
At Madge T. James Kindergarten Center, where a groundbreaking was held Wednesday morning, the safe room will be built as a gymnasium and media center. The current space used for physical education has two classrooms without a dividing wall. When construction is complete, that space will allow for future grade level expansion as needed, Rossetti said.
“In the long run, this fits so well in our facilities master plan,” he said. “We’re set.”
Rossetti noted that upon entering the safe rooms during severe weather, students will be able to engage in activities rather than crouching in fear with their heads covered, supporting the notion that they are truly safe.
Other safe room locations are at Harry S. Truman Elementary, Bess Truman Primary Center, Webster Primary Center, the junior high school and the high school. Those projects are in various stages. When they are complete, the square footage added will be equivalent to that of an entire school, according to Rossetti.
All safe rooms will be accessible to community members during the school day and will have automatic unlocking devices in place for after-hours use during severe weather.
School district officials estimate the total project will cost $20 million. FEMA is paying a large portion of the total, while the district is responsible for the remainder. Voters in April overwhelmingly approved a $9 million bond issue, and $1.8 million will come from the district’s capital projects fund.