District works on safe-room funding

BY LILY ABROMEIT | MAY 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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Funding to fight against tornados and other severe weather didn’t quite reach the Iowa City School District this year.

State officials are making an effort to increase the number of safe rooms available at school districts in Iowa, but Iowa City is lacking when it comes to available facilities. Schools in Cedar Rapids, Anamosa, and West Des Moines have safe rooms in their schools.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency website, a safe room is “a hardened structure specifically designed to meet the FEMA criteria and provide ‘near-absolute protection’ in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes.”

“We applied for two safe rooms, [but] we did not get those grants, so at this time we do not have any safe rooms as defined by the FEMA guidelines,” said school Superintendent Steve Murley.

The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has allocated 40 safe-room projects in Iowa, Stefanie Bond, the public information officer for the department, wrote in an email.

“Of those projects, 32 have been completed and eight are in progress,” she said. “There may be other ‘safe rooms’ that have been built at other Iowa schools that we do not know about or that have been built that do not meet FEMA specifications.”

The district’s applications went through FEMA.

Murley said the district applied for the rooms to be part of design plans for Twain and Penn Elementary Schools.

Although he is unsure why the district did not receive the funding, Murley said, he believes it has to do with the number of grant applications submitted and the amount of money allocated.

“We’ll continue to apply for those grants as we build new buildings and do remodeling in the district and continue to seek federal assistance to construct those facilities for our kids,” he said.

School Board member Tuyet Dorau said the district will continue to search for funding for where it is needed.

“We are continually pursuing grants and … external funding to provide safe rooms in our various buildings,” she said. “We live in Iowa, so tornados are not something that are uncommon … [and] it’s important for us to pursue those matters so if we can get external funding for that, then that makes it possible for us to have those.”

Murley said the rooms would produce numerous positive aspects.

“We think that they would be beneficial for us and for our students when dealing with inclement weather in our buildings, but we also think it would be a wonderful [addition] to the community as well,” he said.

Dorau said she thinks gaining funding for safe rooms would help the community, not just students.

“The idea is to have them somewhat spread out geographically so that if there was an emergency, we would be able to open up those safe rooms to members of our community,” she said. “It’s just a continuation of making sure we pursue external funding and seeing what we can do as far as getting that funding in place where we need it.”

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