A Blount County elementary is one of few schools with shelter

A Blount County elementary is one of few schools with tornado shelter

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"There are actually six rooms that make up our tornado shelter," Principal Jake Jones explained, walking through the interior rooms of the school. "There are actually six rooms that make up our tornado shelter," Principal Jake Jones explained, walking through the interior rooms of the school.
"It's self-contained, it's pretty much a vault inside the school that can basically, if the building was lifted off or collapsed, it should sustain up to 200 mile per hour winds," said Bill Steverson, an architect with Michael Brady INC. "It's self-contained, it's pretty much a vault inside the school that can basically, if the building was lifted off or collapsed, it should sustain up to 200 mile per hour winds," said Bill Steverson, an architect with Michael Brady INC.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

SEYMOUR (WATE) - Some of the most devastating images of the Oklahoma storm are of the two elementary schools turned to rubble, calling into question the safety of schools in East Tennessee.

Seven children died at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla. when the roof tore off and the walls collapsed. Briarwood Elementary suffered a similar fate.  A teacher at the school said they followed procedure, moving students to the innermost area of the building.

While many schools in Oklahoma have tornado shelters, the two in Moore did not.

These tornado shelters are essentially vaults within the school walls. Regulated by FEMA,  they are meant to withstand 200 mile per hour winds, the strength of an EF5 tornado.

Prospect Elementary in Blount County is one of the only schools in our area to have one of these unique shelters.

"There are actually six rooms that make up our tornado shelter," Principal Jake Jones explained, walking through the interior rooms of the school.

Prospect Elementary opened in 2011 and it's state of the art classrooms double as a shelter against tornados.

"If you were to walk into the building, it would look just like regular classrooms," he said.

But with 12 inch thick walls, a steel plated ceiling and steel doors with bolts,  the schools' architect explains it's much more.

"It's self-contained, it's pretty much a vault inside the school that can basically, if the building was lifted off or collapsed, it should sustain up to 200 mile per hour winds," said Bill Steverson, an architect with Michael Brady INC.

The EF 5 tornado in Oklahoma had winds of up to 200 miles per hour and for principal Jake Jones the images are hard to look at.

"I know as a principal that those teachers took every precaution they could to protect those students, and that's what we want to do here at Prospect," Jones said.

The shelter is unique to Prospect Elementary and was suggested by the school board.  At the time there was no grant money but Steverson says grants are now available for schools interested in similar shelters.

There are no schools in Knox, Anderson, Loudon, Sevier or Union counties that have similar shelters.

"There are some additional costs involved, and costs are always a concern for communities," Steverson explained.

The cost is an extra $150-200,000 but after seeing what can happen to a school in the path of a tornado, Jones says it's worth it.

"You take care of these kids on a daily basis, they hug your leg, you hug them, you make sure they have a lunch, you make sure they get to class," Jones said.  "But you never dream of having to carry one of your own students out of the rummage of a tornado."

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