FEMA Picks Up "Safe Room" For New Indee Junior/Senior HS

By Chris Earl, Reporter

Excavators began clearing land for the new Independence Junior and Senior High School Thursday.The school will be 170,000 square feet and each instructor will have their own classroom, overcrowding is a problem in the current facility. Last fall voters passed the 27.5 million dollar bond by 70% after many rejections. (Mark Benischek/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Liz Blood

INDEPENDENCE, Iowa - The present in Independence is another Friday night football game under a marigold sky.

Yet just a mile from the stands is the rapid progress of the new Independence Junior/Senior High School, a $27.5 million project that district voters passed in 2011 after failing to approve it in five previous referendums.

Amid the dozens of workers on the concrete and on the support beams over the new gymnasium, the space for a "safe room" - the first ever in Buchanan County - aims to reassure the 600 students and staffers inside the new facility on the city's west edge.

On Friday, the district reported that FEMA will offer the Independence Community School District an $831,064 grant ($733,292 federal funds/$97,772 state funds) for the safe room, designed to "meet FEMA criteria and provide 'near-absolute' protection in extreme weather events, including tornadoes".

"When this idea came up was a couple of years ago when the tornadoes were hitting in the Alabama region," said ICSD Board President Brian Eddy. "We thought if we had the opportunity to incorporate a safe room into this facility, it was something to consider."

ICSD Superintendent Jean Peterson said the safe room will be built to handle extreme conditions.

"With that structure able to withstand 250 mile per hour winds, that's a very comforting thought," said Peterson.

Another concern, at any middle or high school in the nation, is student safety, especially in a violent scenario. Peterson said the safe room can also handle an incident of that nature.

"We will be able to lock that down for any reason, throughout the whole building," said Peterson.

The overall construction project has taken a true shape throughout the summer. In May, a handful of trailers and signs promising progress welcomed visitors. Four months later, the outer shell is in place as the rush is on to finish the roofing before winter hits.

"The farmers know that people have had a hard time with the draught but it's been perfect weather conditions for construction," said Eddy. "In the last four months, they've made incredible progress and I think they've only missed one day because of rain."

The current junior/senior high school building sits on the southern edge of town, a building that opened in the 1950s and, without air conditioning, can be a bit warm on those school days in late May.

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