CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) - UPDATE: As of May 16, construction is complete on eight of the nine new shelters.
ORIGINAL: When severe weather passes through Conway, all elementary students will have a storm shelter to evacuate to by the end of the month.
When severe weather hits, students and teachers at all nine Conway elementary schools have somewhere to go.
The centers are 3,600 square feet each and fit all students, faculty, and staff. Eight of those nine shelters are near completion.
"We just need a place that when we are faced with inclement weather, we can shelter everyone," said Stacy Defoor, principal at Florence Mattison Elementary School.
The Conway School Board used grants and found funding to build eight storm shelters, costing $1.2 million each. The centers are not just for the schools but will be open to anyone if there's a threat after school hours. The doors are wired into the cities severe weather alert system.
"When a tornado watch is issued for our area, the doors will automatically open," said Heather Kendrick, Communications Specialist for Conway Public Schools.
The storm shelters are built to withstand an EF-5 tornado with up to 250 miles per hour winds.
"It meets all the codes and all the specs of a safe room," said Kendrick. The eight new shelters will also be used as a new gym for the schools. "This space is about twice the space they currently have," said Defoor. Construction is almost complete and the schools should be allowed to use them by the end of the month.
The district plans to construct shelters for the two middle schools that do not have shelters yet starting next school year. But, because there are so many junior high and high school students, shelters at those schools are not feasible.