The Duncan Banner
Every school year, Empire School performs two tornado drills.
Up to this point, those drills have required elementary and pre-kindergarten students to take shelter in the school district’s cellar, and high school students to take refuge in the high school hallways.
But the school district won’t have to wait much longer and it will have a new place for students to go. The school moving toward the completion of its storm shelter, which will also have two pre-kindergarten classrooms attached to it.
“We’re hoping to be done by the end of September, beginning of October,” Empire Elementary Principal Josh Skiles said.
The project has been in the works since August 2012, but it wasn’t until February 2013, that work began on the construction of the safe room. About 75 percent of the safe room is being paid by a FEMA grant, while the school is paying for the remaining 25 percent.
Skiles said the project is one schedule, if not ahead.
“The safe room is structurally up,” Skiles said. “The next time we have kids here, we’ll be able to get into it for safety.”
The pre-kindergarten classrooms will allow for more upgrades in technology for the two classes at Empire. Both classrooms will have SmartBoards and will have all new furnishings. Both classes will be able to hold up to 20 pre-kindergarten students.
Empire Superintendent Vicki Davison said the safe room will have a kitchenette and will have water stored in case of an emergency. Davison said the safe room isn’t only for tornado protection, although it will be able to withstand 318 mile per hour winds, including a direct hit.
She said if there is a wild fire and the school is unable to evacuate, the students would be taken to the safe room.
“We may have to go in there and just hunker down until it passes,” Davison said. “We’re going to equip it to where that can happen.”
The safe room will also be used for some PE activities, although it will not be made into a gym. And the school’s new after-school archery program will utilize the space.
The community will also have an opportunity to use the safe room after hours.
Skiles said one of his favorite parts of the safe room project is the pre-kindergarten students will never have to go outside in a situation involving threatening weather. He said the pre-k students will be able to enter a corridor from their classrooms and head straight into the safe room.
And the safe room will be large enough to fit all elementary and high school students.
“If we have a lot of parents come, the cellar is still available,” Skiles said.
Aside from the safe room, Skiles said there are still some enrollment spaces available at Empire, including some spots for pre-kindergarten students. Forms for enrollment will be available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Superintendent’s Office.
The elementary office will reopen Aug. 1, and the first day of school is set for Aug. 20.
Skiles said the pre-kindergarten rooms won’t be ready in time for the first day of school. Instead, the classes will use the current classrooms until the new rooms are completed and furnished.
After that point, the teachers will move some personal items, and the classes will start learning in the new classrooms.
“We’ll get them in as early as we can,” Davison said.