Builders Say Pawnee Domed Tornado Shelter 'Tornado Proof'

Tuesday, April 1st 2014, 11:27 pm
By: Tess Maune

A Green Country school is preparing for storm season with the future in mind. A shelter is going up right now in Pawnee.

Builders said its dome design essentially makes the shelter tornado proof, strong enough to withstand an EF-5 tornado.

"The round part of the building makes it stronger than having a square corner in the building," said Lambert Construction Company Vice President, Stephen Mitchell. "The connection from the wall to the roof is curved and there's no outside corners for the air, or the wind, of the tornado to catch and to tear apart."

Pawnee voters approved to fund the $1.6 million shelter in November 2012.

School Superintendent, Ned Williams said the school hadn't started building because it was hoping to get some grant funding. But when last year's Moore tornado killed seven children at an elementary school, Williams said the district fast-tracked the process and broke ground in January.

"We couldn't wait. We felt like if we waited any more time, we may be sorry," Williams said.

Now, brick by brick, the walls are going on a shelter that administrators and teachers said will protect children for generations.

"If we can take care of our town, our children, that's the main thing. If we can take care of our kids then we'll all be fine," said Pawnee teacher and grandparent, Carol Clymber.

The shelter is being built next to the elementary school. The superintendent said the elementary doesn't have a safe place for students to go during severe weather, just an old basement in disrepair.

"Our biggest fear is if a tornado hit our elementary school right now that the debris would fall on the children in the area that we use as a safe room. And unfortunately, that's the best place we have to take them at this time," said Williams.

The basement is so archaic, teachers said students are afraid to use it as a shelter.

"It's very scary. It's very old; it's the basement under the library that's been there for years and years. It's in disrepair, the stairs, the paint's peeling off the walls, the kids are quite frightened when they go under," Clymber said.

The dome will bring the security the school has been missing all these years.

Williams said the district looked to other Green Country schools like Locust Grove and Beggs to get design ideas.

"It's one piece from the foundation all the way up to and through the roof, all the way across," said the builder.

The shelter will have a brick exterior, but that's just for looks. Inside the dome, there will be nine inches of concrete reinforced with steel.

"It will give the appearance of not just a dome eggshell," said Williams. "We want to color our dome much like the sandstone of Oklahoma [and the elementary school]."

Outside of severe weather, children will know the dome as an indoor playground. But for the community, it will also serve as a public shelter for a town that doesn't currently have a safe place to take cover when storm sirens blow.

"It is something that is very necessary in town," said Clymber, who doesn't have a storm shelter at home. "There's so many homes in Pawnee that don't have storm shelters and people don't know where to go in the event of a storm."

There's a very old underground facility over on the middle and high school campus where students can go during severe weather. But, with enough warning they'll be able to use the dome as well.

Williams said he hopes the district will eventually be able to build a second shelter on the other campus.

"Our children are our most precious commodities, so it's important to everyone in our community," Williams said.

The shelter won't be ready this spring, but it's expected to be finished by August. Once complete, it should be able to fit between 1,000 and 1,500 people inside.

According to Williams there are more than 800 students enrolled in the Pawnee School District, and the town, he said, has a population of about 2,000.