Tornado safe rooms in the works for Minnesota school district, RV park

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 30, 2013 - 9:32 PM

The safe room for students in Paynesville will be nearly 4,700 square feet and can also double as a gymnasium.

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FILE - A Tuesday, May 21, 2013 file photo, an aerial view shows Plaza Towers Elementary School, which was destroyed in Monday's tornado, in Moore, Okla. Unlike several others schools in the Oklahoma City area, Plaza Towers had no �safe room.�

Photo: Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press - Ap

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Two safe rooms, built sturdy enough to offer “near-absolute protection” from tornadoes and other potentially deadly events, will be built in central and western Minnesota, state public safety officials announced Thursday.

One is set for Paynesville Middle and High School in central Minnesota, according to the Department of Public Safety. The room will cover 4,691 square feet and be in the shape of a V with two 60-foot-long wings.

The other will be built near Lake Traverse and be available for visitors of a recreational vehicle park in the area, not far from where Minnesota and the Dakotas come together. That room will cover 720 square feet and be able to hold up to 122 people.

Oklahoma is the leading state for safe rooms, which probably saved lives in Moore on May 20, when a massive and deadly tornado struck, according to FEMA. The agency has provided $57 million to that “Tornado Alley” state for the construction of roughly 12,000 safe rooms.

However, the two schools that were hard hit — Plaza Towers in Moore and Briarwood Elementary in Oklahoma City — did not have safe rooms because state financing had not been sought. The tornado killed at least 24 people, including nine children, seven of them at Plaza Towers.

A new high school in the Wadena-Deer Creek School District, which opened in September and replaced the one hit by a tornado in 2010, includes a free-standing safe room that can hold 1,214 people during a storm and serve as a gymnasium at other times. The room is built to withstand winds of 250 miles per hour.

Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom said hers is the first school safe room in the Upper Midwest. It cost nearly $1.3 million — $950,000 from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant and $316,000 from local taxpayers.

Likewise, the safe rooms planned for Paynesville and Lake Traverse are being funded with substantial federal assistance. Completion dates for the rooms have yet to be determined.

Community safe rooms are hardened structures designed to meet the criteria of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and provide “near-absolute protection” in extreme weather including tornadoes, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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