New Big Country schools equipped to withstand tornadoes

Big Country schools prepare for servere weather

ABILENE, Texas - Some new schools in the Big Country will be able to keep kids safe from tornadoes – at least that's the hope of an Abilene architect.

New schools in Robert Lee, Aspermont, Goldthwaite and Hermleigh will be built to withstand F-3 and F-4 tornadoes.

Noting the extra safety measures are cost-effective, Abilene-based architect Steve Ellinger has drawn up plans for schools to have storm shelter corridors.

"We feel fairly confident that what we're doing provides a much, much higher level of safety without adding a lot to the cost of the project," Ellinger said. "You're probably looking at around another buck-and-a-half or so per square foot to accomplish that, so it's not a whole lot."

The projects are done in a way that's pleasing to the eye – in many ways reinforcing hallways with concrete and steel.

"We do it in a way that allows us to apply the same finishes and materials that we would do throughout the rest of the building so that most people aren't even aware that that's there," Ellinger said.

Most schools in the Big Country aren't equipped with storm shelter corridors.

This is mostly because of money and geography.

"It's a cost factor versus the benefit of doing it," said Joe Humphrey, construction coordinator for Abilene ISD. "I think if we were located in Oklahoma City, we would probably view this a lot differently."

School size also plays a role. Small schools can fit everyone in one spot.

"We couldn't do just one area," Humphrey said. "We'd have to do multiple areas because our schools are large."

Ellinger said it is possible to add corridors to existing schools, but that it would be very difficult and disruptive.

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