Belton High shelter has dual purpose

It may be the season for greetings now, but soon enough, spring will usher in a period with dread attached to it:

Tornado season.

When that time comes, the Belton School District will be ready to protect its students — and nearby residents as well.

A new storm shelter, funded by a federal FEMA grant and local bond money, is nearly complete. It will be dedicated Dec. 17.

Attached to the new Belton High School, the space has a cost-efficient dual purpose.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency designated the grants for projects that would not only protect students in an emergency, but serve everyday classroom needs, too, said Belton Superintendent Andrew Underwood. Belton has designated its shelter for music, consumer science and a number of other classes.

The building is on the district’s western campus near the football and baseball stadium at Missouri 58 and Cleveland Avenue.

Underwood knew about the grants because the Ava, Mo., school district, where he previously worked, built a shelter with FEMA funds.

“I knew it was a great opportunity,” he said.

The 20,000-square-foot building of precast walls is engineered to withstand 250 mph winds. The $4 million project was funded with $1.7 million from FEMA, while a bond issue passed in 2012 paid for all of the “soft costs” such as parking, water and power, along with the new high school.

Construction on the shelter began about a year ago and is more than 95 percent complete.

When finished, the shelter will be available to the community around the clock, 365 days a year. Police will open the shelter once they are notified of a tornado warning, and the schools will take responsibility within 30 minutes of being notified of the warning, the superintendent said.

The building will shelter students in three buildings on the western campus: the high school, Middle Creek Upper Elementary School and the Grace Early Childhood Care and Education Center.

In a test to qualify for the grant, the district timed the process of students walking from all buildings in that area – four at the time – and they made it in a matter of minutes, said District Communications Coordinator Kristin Beason.

Other students will continue to use the traditional “duck-and-cover” preparations on which they are drilled, she said.

“The school district is continually trying to improve not only the education of, but the facilities for, the students,” Underwood said. “But with the tornado shelter, we have additional classroom space and a safe space for our community. So it’s a win-win.”

Dedication ceremony

The Belton School District will cut the ribbon on its new storm shelter, near the high school stadium at Missouri 58 and Cleveland Avenue, at 4:30 p.m. today.

The community is invited the ceremony as well as a holiday reception beforehand.