School Construction Changes After Storms

By Deangelo McDaniel

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) – The large amount of rebar and concrete on the construction site at Hatton High is not there by accident.

Instead, it represents a change in how schools are constructed in Alabama.

Three years after eight students died when a tornado hit Enterprise High School in 2007, the Alabama Building Commission started requiring “mandatory safe spaces” in new K-12 public schools.

“Essentially what you have to do if the school is totally new is include storm shelters that can survive a major tornado,” said Brian Moore, of Martin & Cobey Construction in Athens.

The company supervised construction of Hartselle’s $44 million high school that opened in March.

The 280,000-square-foot facility has three storm shelters designed to withstand 250 mph winds and are within five minutes of any room in the school.

The shelters are integrated with the school, some doubling as classrooms, halls and corridors.

But if storms approach, there are areas school leaders can send students and shut doors, giving them the protection Moore believes all schools should have.

“I know it would be expensive and in some cases impossible to retrofit schools, but this is something we need to think about,” he said.

Dirk and Kathy Strunk’s daughter, Katie, was one of the eight students killed at Enterprise High on March 1, 2007.

Kathy, who now teaches at Decatur High, was about 10 feet from the wall that collapsed on her daughter and several other students.

“We were in a hall in the middle of the school,” she said. “I always thought a hall in a school was one of the safest places to be during a tornado.”

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