RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) - If high winds threaten Russellville Schools, the district now has a place for protection. Each school is equipped with a safe room that can withstand winds of up to 250 miles an hour.
The cyclones of Russellville fall directly in the heart of tornado alley.
"Never had one directly hit a school, but we've had some close," said Russellville superintendent Randall Williams.
Before seeing what could be played out in real time, the district invested roughly $2 million, along with $8 million in FEMA grants, to build 11 safe rooms--a space for every campus.
"Pre-cast concrete slabs welded together, and they're designed to withstand 250 mile per hour winds, and I'm sure that's kind of the minimum specs, so they'll withstand more than that," said Williams.
Williams said the public responded favorably to the project, and Russellville High School Principal Sheila Jacobs believes the move makes sense.
"They want to feel safe. They want to feel like not only that we have their academic success in mind, we also have just the fact that they are individuals, and we care about them as people, and we have their safety in mind. I think that's very important for us to have at the forefront," said Jacobs.
Williams explained a unique aspect of the project is the functionality of the rooms. The spaces are being used for cheerleading, drill teams, and even physical education for elementary students.
After school hours, the safe rooms can be used by the public during a storm threat.
"There are certain zones around the safe rooms that the public is able to come in and access those facilities during the night. When a tornado siren goes off, the doors automatically unlock," said Williams.
Mr. Williams told THV 11 that according to FEMA regulation, the safe rooms are required to have five square feet per person, so everybody inside the school can fit inside. All of Russellville's safe rooms are structured inside their current facilities, so students and faculty do not have to go outside to reach the safe room.