Schools want tornado safe rooms, but funding stands in way - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Schools want tornado safe rooms, but funding stands in way

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CEDAR RAPIDS (KWWL) - If a tornado were to hit Cedar Rapids, students at Pierce Elementary School would be in their safe spots. The goal there is to put at least two walls between the kids and the outside.

"We put them in the safest areas of our building," said principal Rebecca DeWald. "We have a solid brick building."

The Linn County Emergency Management Agency helps each school in the district determine the safest areas. That's because the schools in the district don't have tornado safe rooms.

"A safe room is built to certain specifications that have been outlined by FEMA to be able to protect people in the event of such weather," said Stefanie Bond, Public Information Officer for Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Many schools with rooms use them for multiple purposes like an auditorium or offices. The rooms can get expensive.

State officials say protecting our kids from tornados should be a priority, but more needs done.

There are only 40 tornado safe room projects in schools across the state, and there's a call to build more.

It's really the cost of these projects that's stopping school districts from building these safe rooms. The price of these rooms ranges and depends on what else the district uses the room for, but the average cost of these projects is more than $1 million.

Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management helps schools apply for grants from FEMA to cover the costs.

Districts are responsible for around 25 percent of the costs, and adding one to each school in a large district like Cedar Rapids would be pricey.

"If this is a state priority that the state wants this to be accomplished, it can be accomplished," said Dr. David Benson, Cedar Rapids Schools superintendent. "With some state revenue and some state funding sources, we can have these safe rooms in our facilities."

But for now, the district will continue to use its current tornado plan.

The application process for Hazard Mitigation Assistance is currently open. That helps fund safe rooms, and it's not just open to schools. Community safe rooms are also encouraged.

Groups need to apply to Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management by July 7. For more information, click here: http://www.homelandsecurity.iowa.gov/grants/HMA.html

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