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Tornado-safe room building starts
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Tuesday morning, workers began pouring the foundation of what will soon be the new tornado safe room at Great Bend Middle School. The structure is designed to FEMA standards to withstand an F5 tornado. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

Workers began pouring the foundation of the new Great Bend Middle School tornado safe room Tuesday morning, less than a day after the devastating F4 tornado that struck Moore, Okla., tore the roofs off two elementary schools, injuring many and killing nine confirmed at the time of this writing.  

The new facility is being built to FEMA regulations, and will be able to withstand winds from an F5 tornado, according to the specifications of the building plan.

“This is going to be a really safe place,” said one of the concrete workers, “but it makes me wonder how safe my kids in elementary school would be if a tornado came through here.”

Dan Brungardt, assistant superintendent of USD 428, said in recent year the district had taken part in a disaster plan with Barton Community College.  

“Most of our elementary schools were built in the 1950s, when concrete was inexpensive,” he said.  He described concrete pillar construction with concrete slab roofs.  “Our schools are very sturdy, I’d feel very safe taking shelter in any of them.”

Students at all schools will take shelter in in the middle of the schools, away from windows and other glass, Brungardt said.  At Riley Elementary and Great Bend High School, students will be directed to the ground level of the school in the event of a tornado drill or warning.  

As part of the BCC disaster plan, the USD 428 Board of Education has also agreed to consider building tornado safe rooms as additions, such as the GBMS gym, are made.  

The facility there will hold between 650-700 people, Brungardt said.  It will be tight, but there is room for all students, staff and faculty.  One thing to keep in mind -- it is not a community tornado shelter.

“We are not open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Brungardt explained.  “There are no federal shelter dollars in this construction.”  

Those living in the vicinity of the middle school should not consider it as an alternative shelter.  For the general public, sheltering in place inside your home is still the best advice.  The best places are either in your basement or in an interior hallway or room with no windows, where you can take cover from debris under sturdy furniture, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( ).