Local school waiting on FEMA approval to build tornado safe room

BELTON, Mo. - After what happened to schools in Moore, Okla., when an E-F5 tornado hit, we asked about safety and shelter for students in Kansas and Missouri.

We learned FEMA has given $67 million to Kansas since 2001. So far, that money was approved to build 217 tornado safe rooms -- 24 of those in Johnson, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties. State officials say approximately 190 of those rooms are for schools, but a list of their exact locations was not yet available.

In Missouri, there are 144 safe room projects underway. Fifty-eight are complete, and ready for use by cities, colleges and schools.

LIST | Approved and/or completed tornado safe rooms in Missouri http://on.mo.gov/10MWRR4

The Belton School District needs final approval from FEMA before breaking ground. And given what's happened in Oklahoma, that approval process can't come soon enough.

Superintendent Dr. Andy Underwood has the designs and blue prints ready to start construction, but still needs final approval from FEMA for the $1.6 million project.

"We went out and tried through approval of FEMA to obtain a storm shelter that can withstand 250 mph winds, that can house a large number of students but also our community as well," Underwood said. "It would be open 24/7 in the event of a tornado warning."

The safe room would be added on to Belton's freshmen center, already under construction for another project. It will be big enough for 1,500 to 2,500 people and available to students and residents. The shelter design is strong enough to withstand 250 mph winds.

"Obviously the grant application takes some time, obviously our state emergency management is behind us as well, because they feel like the more shelters there are out there that can withstand that type of storm, the better for each and every community we have in the state," Underwood said.

The school district hopes to have the project approved and completed in the next eight to nine months.

Underwood knows how important these shelters can be. He used to work in the Ava, Mo., school district. The school district had a shelter, which was used three times during storms while he was there. Underwood said one of those times, a tornado tore through an area just three blocks away from the school, but the students in the safe room were unharmed.

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