The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 16, 2012

Joplin homeowners opting for safety during rebuilding

— As they stand next to the foundation of their former home at 2315 S. Missouri Ave., Don Conner and his wife, Shirley, look at the barren foundations around them.

“These were the homes of our neighbors and our friends. We lost some good neighbors,’’ Shirley Conner said.

Pointing to a nearby foundation, Don Conner said, “He got killed.’’

Pointing to another, he said, “He got killed.’’

And to another, he said, “She got killed.’’

In all, 10 people were killed by the tornado in their neighborhood.

But thanks to Shirley Conner’s persistence, the couple survived.

“After three years, I nagged him into cutting a hole in the floor of our bedroom so that it would be easier for us to get under the house,’’ she said. “We only had to use it once, but it saved our lives.’’

Before the “fraidy hole’’ with its hatch door was installed, the Conners would have to go outside and remove a cover over an opening in their foundation to get below their house.

“If we would have had to do that with this storm, we would not have made it in time,’’ she said. “Don barely made it in time the way it was.’’

Said Don: “I got ... down that hole as fast as I could and pulled the lid shut.’’

When they emerged, they could see the sky above. It was then that Shirley, 77, and Don, 78, knew that they would be starting over again. They had lost everything.

Today, they live in a new house at 1205 E. 24th St. that was constructed by Rausch-Coleman, an Arkansas-based home-building company. Their “fraidy hole” has been replaced by a safe room that doubles as a closet.

Building trend

Though the city of Joplin did not require safe rooms in the construction of new post-tornado homes, a majority of recent new-home buyers in Joplin are insisting on them. Safe rooms and basements have become important selling features, and it’s one of the trends under way as Joplin builds back from the storm.

According to city building permits, in the first year after the storm more than 5,000 of the homes and apartment units of the estimated 7,500 that were destroyed or damaged on May 22, 2011, are under permit or have been repaired.

“Ninety percent of our new homes in Joplin have safe rooms,’’ said Falinda Duncan, spokeswoman for Rausch-Coleman, Fayetteville, Ark., the 32nd largest home-building company in the United States. “They are putting them in their garages and closets. It’s a selling feature that we have discounted tremendously for the people of Joplin. We don’t want someone to buy one of our homes and not feel safe.’’

Duncan said safe rooms are an option in other markets where the company operates, including Kansas City, Fayetteville, and Tulsa, Okla.

“But the demand is nothing like it is in Joplin,’’ she said.

Danny Silsbe, owner of Joplin Builders, said one of the first things prospective home buyers want to know is whether a house has a basement.

Said Silsbe: “They are all wanting protection for their family. It’s one of the critical things people ask: Is there a basement?’’

Silsbe said a basement or a dedicated safe room is a selling feature.

“You’re shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t offer them and the people you are in competition with do,’’ he said. “We build the kind of home we would want our families to live in.’’

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