Tornado shelters, safety at heart of upcoming district elections

GODDARD, Kan. (KSNW) – Storm shelters have become a top priority for school districts around Kansas as they push to pass bond issues during individual elections.

KSN wanted to find out why the need for storm shelters has taken center stage, so we talked with school leaders, teachers and parents at Goddard USD 265, one of several districts hoping to make the addition.

A typical tornado drill at Oak Street Elementary School, the oldest building in the district, consists of several hundred students lining up in rows, facing the wall of a hallway, bathrooms and storage rooms.

That is the case at nine of Goddard’s 12 school buildings.

“This is not adequate,” said Mira Mullen, a speech pathologist at Oak Street. “This is an old building. We don’t have what it takes and so we need those shelters.”

What Mullen means is that the walls the ceiling of the building aren’t equipped to withstand extreme wind speeds and debris impacts, putting students in potential danger, should a tornado hit.

For that reason, the Goddard district has included FEMA approved storm shelters in the $52 million bond issue up for vote on April 25.

If the bond passes, residents with a $100,000 home in the Goddard district will pay $1.82 more each month.

“The students and my colleagues have to have a safe place to go when a tornado, especially something as severe as an EF5 would come through, because the buildings that I used to teach in in the Goddard area would not hold up against something like that and the results would be very tragic,” said Sarah Ashcraft, a music teacher at Apollo Elementary School.

Apollo, unlike Oak Street, is one of the few buildings in Goddard with the luxury of storm shelters.

On any regular day, one of the school’s shelters serves as a computer lab, but in the event of a tornado, it’s one of four safe rooms for all 400 Apollo students.

“I think for any parent, whenever a severe storm hits, you want to know that your kids are going to be safe and you know, safer than they are in the hallway with a book over their head where a building could fall on them,” said Melinda Morgan, a mother of three in the Goddard district.

Because of insecurity around shelter during storms, many parents actually head to the schools to pick their students up when severe weather strikes.

Not only is there not enough time or space for parents in that kind of situation, but it’s not a safe practice, Mullen said.

Other teachers tell KSN they understand why parents want to take matters into their own hands.

“Parents would call and they would email and they wanted to pick their kids up early and as a teacher, I’m probably not supposed to tell them to come get them but as I told them, if it was me and I had the option, I would have been there right away,” said Annette Hagel, a 2nd grade teacher at Oak Street Elementary School and a parent in the Goddard district.

Some parents have students at one of Goddard’s three schools with FEMA-approved shelters but tell KSN they want to see the improvements made district-wide.

“This bond issue is not affecting my children as it will affect other kids in the district like we’ve seen today at Oak Street but the tornado drill that they did today is just heart wrenching to me so I can’t imagine my children being in a school like that and being put in that kind of danger,” said Jennifer Barber, a parent in the district and co-chair of the bond steering committee.

The $52 million bond issue would also be used for other improvements to all 12 of the district’s schools, ranging from intruder prevention locks on every classroom to replacing old, inefficient heating and air conditioning systems.

That election is Tuesday, April 25 and the deadline to register to vote in the election is today, March 21.


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