Columbia Elementary safe room still not safe as storm shelter

District looking to FEMA for options
Columbia Elementary safe room still not safe as storm shelter
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The safe room at Columbia Elementary in Joplin has been unusable since it was constructed, and now work to try and correct the issues, has come to a halt.

The safe room at Columbia Elementary has been undergoing evaluation to determine how to keep it as a safe room for the school and the community, but that evaluation has stopped, as the district looks to FEMA to determine their next options. Dave Pettit with Joplin Schools says “If we make the repairs can we still get certification, recertification as a FEMA shelter then also what our financial obligations might be if we have to go a particularly different route.”

Victor Thomas lives across the street from Columbia, and has been wondering about the shelter’s future, and safety, for the past two years. Thomas says “They say it’s safe for the kids over there to play and I think they use it as a gym, they say it’s safe for them, so why isn’t it safe for, a storm shelter, and what went wrong after they spent all that money?”

Pettit says there are two other nearby schools with community shelters that are available to the public at Jefferson and West Central. But Thomas worries about overcrowding at either location with the overflow from the Columbia area. Thomas says “I think if I had been worried enough to try to go there to begin with I’d really be concerned if I had to turn around and try to come back home because by then, like you say, it might be too late by then.”

Pettit says the district has formed a long range planning committee to determine what’s next not only for the Columbia safe room, but the school itself as it continues to age. Pettit: “So we’re looking at all of the options, we’re giving them all of the information that we have, we’ve visited Columbia, West Central, Irving, and Kelsey Norman, looking at the schools and what those opportunities are that are there, then, we will come together as a committee, and they will preferably make a recommendation the end of may as to what their suggestions will be not just for Columbia but for the district in general.”

Pettit says there are no plans in the near future to close Columbia, but the district will look at a number of factors including the school’s age, and current condition of the building, and the site it sits on.