AL schools built safer after 2007 tornado killed students - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

AL schools built safer after 2007 tornado killed students

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CONCORD - AL -

Over the last few years, deadly tornadoes reduced schools in Central Alabama to piles of bricks. Many of those districts are now rebuilding much stronger and safer schools.

A state mandate came after a tornado killed students in Enterprise. It requires all Alabama schools built after 2010 to have a shelter. These buildings aren't just replacing ones destroyed by tornadoes. They are also upgrades for aging schools, like Concord Elementary.

"It's kind of a barren room in here, so it's getting real. It's getting exciting," said Keith McCroskey, a teacher at Concord Elementary School.

Tuesday, McCroskey was packing the last few boxes. He's leaving behind an aging school that has survived several tornadoes.

"We've been very fortunate here. The tornado has been on our left and on our right," he said.

In 1998, nearby Oak Grove High School was destroyed.

A March 2007 tornado slammed into Enterprise High School killing eight students.

On April 27, 2011, Tuscaloosa area schools were damaged. That tornado also leveled houses and businesses in Concord. It claimed the lives of Mikey and Lexi Kreider.

Mikey was McCroskey's student.

"There was a vacancy, not just with a desk but a missing child. There would be times I'd be handing out papers and see his work and the memories would come back," he said.

Even during tornado drills, McCroskey has worried.

"When I put the children in the hallway, I worry about what's the best position for them to be in, where is the best place," he said.

Fortunately, the move into the new school is taking away some of the concern.

"The ceiling, walls, floor are steel reinforced, so it is designed as a shelter. It's designed to withstand wind 250 miles per hour," said Principal David Foster.

There's also a generator to keep lights and restrooms running, and all the hallway doors are steel. The doors lock at the top and bottom.

"There's no telling how fast debris would have to be going to puncture the door, so this is really a safety envelop," said Foster. "I don't know of any place that would be safer to be honest."

The school can shelter 900 people, so parents and other people in Concord would be able to use the safe space.

"Those students in Oklahoma were sheltered like they should've been," he said. "If they'd had a facility like this, it probably would've been totally different."

Shelter requirements increase construction costs by several hundred thousand dollars. Lawmakers did approve bonds for several schools to help with new construction. Three million will go to Alberta City Elementary. University Place Elementary and Holt Elementary will each get 2.5 million.

 

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