By Jason Estrada
School districts in Iowa are seeking to add more safe rooms to protect students from severe weather.
This coming summer, the Iowa City School District will add safe rooms at Hoover Elementary, West High, and the new high school.
School District physical-plant director Duane Van Hemert said safe rooms are interior rooms with no exterior doors or windows, such as hallways. Each room would have a reinforced roof or ceiling structure.
“We have a lot of two-story buildings, and the second floor is reinforced concrete over the first,” he said. “So the obvious safe place is the corridor of the first floor away from windows and doors.”
Although the interior and exterior aspects are important for safety, schools can sometimes use the basements as a safe place, Hemert said.
However, School District Superintendent Stephen Murley said they have constantly strived to provide their students a safe environment.
“The construction of new facilities and major renovations in existing facilities has afforded the district the opportunity to include these types of spaces in our construction plans,” he said.
The School District has safe rooms installed in every school, and some schools recently received hardened storm shelters, Murley said.
“Hardened storm shelters are designed to withstand severe winds from storms and tornadoes,” he said. “These rooms can be built to various standards to withstand a variety of levels of storm.”
Murley noted if voters approve General Obligation Bond this fall, a financial-assistance method for the School District to fund construction projects, then the district will continue to add storm shelters to new facility construction and major renovation projects.
“Schools house large numbers of children on half of the days of the calendar year for most of the day, especially when you include extracurricular activities,” he said. “Ensuring that students are as safe as possible is one of the primary responsibilities of the district.”
Stefanie Bond, the public information officer of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, said there are two general types of safe rooms, community and residential, that are both designed to protect the life of occupants from the effects of straight-line winds and tornadoes.
“Most community safe rooms are installed in parks, schools, and other public places and usually serve multiple purposes,” she said. “For example, a safe room in a school may serve as a wrestling room, classroom, or even a hallway. Community safe rooms are intended to shelter 50 or more people.”
Bond said Homeland Security has not funded a safe room for the School District.
Bond said Homeland Security has funded 72 safe rooms since 1992 in 42 Iowa schools, which came to a cost of $42 million. The first Iowa schools was funded in 2009.