The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 21, 2013

Webb City school officials discuss safety, shelters at community breakfast

By Ryan Richardson
rrichardson@joplinglobe.com

WEBB CITY, Mo. — More than 100 parents, teachers and community members lined the Webb City Middle School cafeteria Monday morning to hear district officials talk about school safety issues, including a vote on April 2 to add safe rooms.

Assistant Superintendent Kevin Cooper said school officials have worked for some time to improve safety throughout district schools.

“I was asked last month by a parent if “I could guarantee that my child is safe,” and that answer was ‘No,’ ” Cooper said. “But I did tell her that I can guarantee that we are doing everything in our power daily to protect them in the school environment. Our schools here in Webb City are still safe.”

Cooper discussed adding entrance cameras and a door locking policy.

“Each building will have video access to the outside for visitors to state their business at the school,” Cooper said. “The schools will also have one main point of entry with locking systems in place that are keycard operated.”

Cooper said the district also will conduct intruder drills under the supervision of police department liaisons.

“We want to make sure that the kids know the safe place to go while the staff establishes lines of open communication,” Cooper said. “We’re doing everything we can to promote safety and safe schools.”

SAFE ROOMS

The district also is proposing FEMA-approved safe rooms. Superintendent Tony Rossetti outlined the plan, including the budget and details of a vote that will be on the April ballot to pay the district’s share of the work.

The plan is to add a total of 90,000-square-feet in six room at the Harry S. Truman Elementary School and the Bess Truman Primary Center; at Webster Primary Center; at the Madge T. James Kindergarten Center; at the middle school; and at the junior high and at the high school. All the rooms are expected to house between 1,000 and 2,000 people during severe weather, and the high school will hold up to 3,000 people. All of them will open to the public during emergencies, except the room at the Webster Primary Center, which already has a community safe room.

“This is a 75 percent-25 percent project for the district where we pay 25 percent of the cost for the shells of the safe rooms throughout the district,” Rossetti said. “That will get the shells in place and that is where the district will come in to pay the rest to fill these multipurpose rooms.”

The estimated project cost is $18 million with $9.6 million of that needed to build the shelters. Of that, $7.2 million of that will come from Federal Emergency Management Agency grants, leaving the district’s share at $2.4 million for the shelter.

Rosetti said the district would $1.8 million from its reserves into the project, leaving a bond issue of $9 million.

The remaining money will be used to expand the use of the building beyond shelters into libraries, media centers and gymnasiums, and to cover the cost of everything from paint to sound systems to gym flooring. The 90,000-square-foot total also includes a commons area/cafeteria at the high school that would not be part of a safe room, he said.

The 20-year bond would extend the current debt-service levy, which is 68 cents. Rosetti said the district refinanced existing debt last year and that allowed it not only to continue making payments on existing debt obligations, but also freed up about $9 million for the proposed project.

While the district could have rolled back the levy after refinancing, he said the other option — favored by school officials — would have been to keep the levy at the same level but pay off the existing debt faster.

Under the current total levy of $3.43 per $100 of assessed valuation, which also includes $2.75 for operations, the owner of a $100,000 home pas $651.70 in school taxes annually.

The issue will require a four-sevenths majority, or 57.1 percent, for passage.

“These are full EF-5 shelters in addition to growing our schools,” Rossetti said.

Stephen Crane, a parent of three with two children in the Webb City school district, said that the morning’s breakfast was successful in keeping a dialogue open between the parents and the district.

“There is a great reason to keep safety in mind for our city,” Crane said. “The discussion had to happen on safety and on the levy and I think the education on what the tax dollars will be used for will make everyone much more receptive when the election comes.”



SAFE ROOM TIMELINE

Webb City Superintendent Tony Rossetti said that if voters in April approve the safe room projects, October would be the earliest that the district would be able to break ground , with an additional year needed to complete the projects.