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Beech Grove schools considering tornado shelter as district cleans up

Posted: 6:00 AM, Jul 30, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-30 08:48:52-04
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BEECH GROVE — It’s back to school for many children in central Indiana, including Beech Grove City Schools.

The district is still making repairs after a tornado hit the high school on June 15, causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage.

PREVIOUS | Beech Grove tornado cleanup making progress

Dr. Paul Kaiser, superintendent of Beech Grove City Schools, is thankful the tornado hit on a Saturday and in the summer, when school was not in session.

“The biggest thing is no one was injured,” Kaiser said. “It actually lifted the steel structures off the ground.”

Kaiser thinks about what could have happened had the 900 students been inside the building during the tornado.

They would have likely crouched in an interior hallway, which is considered a best practice for schools without a tornado shelter or a basement.

Like most school districts in Indiana, Beech Grove does not have a tornado shelter or safe room.

“I think this was a good wake up call to make sure we cross our T’s and dot our I’s on the school safety aspect of a tornado,” Kaiser said.

Indiana law does not require schools to have tornado shelters, even new ones, plus it can be expensive to retrofit an existing school with a tornado shelter.

Adding a tornado safe room to a newly constructed building can add about 5 percent to the total cost of the project.

However, Call 6 Investigates has learned schools can obtain grants to build tornado safe rooms through FEMA and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security .

Kaiser said they are considering including a tornado shelter in a future early learning center.

“That’s something we have talked about,” Kaiser said. “From a safety standpoint, I would love a place to put kids in a shelter. We don’t have that available here in the school district.”

Kaiser said he was unaware federal funds were available for creating tornado safe rooms.

“Beech Grove City Schools would be very interested if there was money available to create a safer environment for students,” Kaiser said.

Currently, Hornet Park Elementary students are the only children who have access to a basement, at the adjacent community center, during a tornado.

“They can take all 400 kids underneath the building,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser showed Call 6 Investigates some of the 25 damaged classrooms inside the high school.

“All the walls in here need to come down, they’ve been saturated,” he said.

Kaiser said most of the impacted classrooms will be fixed and ready to go when students return back to school on July 31, but some still need repairs.

Do you want to bring a tornado shelter or safe room to your child’s school?

Talk to your principal, superintendent or school board and visit the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s mitigation website for more information about tornado safe room funding.

Tonight on the News at 6:00 on RTV6, we talk to IDHS about where Indiana falls when it comes to tornado risk.

And Tonight on the News at 11:00, Call 6 Investigates shows you one school district who took advantage of federal money to build a state-of-the-art tornado safe room. Our Kara Kenney is digging into why more schools are not applying for the funding.