New high school gyms could serve as emergency shelters

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 | 2:15 p.m. CDT; updated 8:12 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 12, 2011

COLUMBIA — New gymnasiums to be built at Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools in the next two years could serve as storm shelters for the city.

The School Board will be notified by June if the district receives a grant to make this possible, Deputy Superintendent Nick Boren said.

Boren said the district applied for a $3.1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to complete the project. The grant covers extra costs to meet the safety requirements provided by FEMA.

“These funds are to pay for the storm shelter costs associated with the gym design,” Boren said. “It is more expensive to design and build to these specifications as compared to building just a regular high school gym.”

According to official FEMA guidelines, the primary structural difference between shelters and conventional buildings is a mandate that certified shelters must be able to withstand 200 to 250 mph winds. Conventional buildings only need to withstand 90 to 150 mph winds. Windows and doors in shelters also must be constructed to resist wind-borne debris that could cause injury.

Both Hickman and Rock Bridge gyms will be competition-sized facilities. After the new gyms are built, the old gymnasiums will remain open and operational.

The new Rock Bridge space will serve as the school's secondary gym and the new one at Hickman will serve as its primary gym.

Demolition of classroom spaces that will be replaced with the new Hickman gym is set to take place this November, Boren said. Both facilities are to be completed by August 2013.  

Board member Jonathan Sessions said both will be built on the exterior of the buildings, allowing easy access to the public.

“The hope would be that we can work with the Columbia Parks and Recreation department to allow this facility to be used more often by the public," Sessions said. "You’ll be able to access this gym without having to access the rest of the high school facility.”

Storm shelter aside, Sessions said the primary goal of the project is to accommodate the physical education needs of students. This is especially important because of the eventual inclusion of ninth-graders into the high schools.  

“All of a sudden we’re going to have about 600 more kids in a building that are going to need half a year's worth of P.E.," he said.

There is insufficient physical space in the buildings now to offer the required P.E. curriculum for all students, he said.

"If the shelter part doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen," Sessions said. "But we still need the gyms.”

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