School expansion focuses on safety - WSMV News 4

School expansion focuses on safety

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Work continues on the addition to Walker Valley High School in Charleston, Tennessee. The 13,000 square foot building will house new classrooms to alleviate overcrowding.

"We opened in 2001 with 775 students," says Principal Danny Coggin. "We now have 1,564 students."

The growth has been welcomed, but the school district couldn't afford to pay for the inevitable annex in full. The community thought back to the tornado outbreak of April, 2011 for a possible solution.

"We lost a school in Bradley County, Blue Springs Elementary School, in 2011 during that storm. And this area got hit hard, too," recalls Coggin.

So to help protect students, teachers, and faculty the next time severe weather strikes, and to help pay for the expansion, it could double as a tornado shelter.

Because the addition is being built according to standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the government is covering $1.2 million of the total $1.7 million cost.

"The entire outside is reinforced concrete. So we pour every concrete cell on the outside of the building and put reinforced steel in it. So it's basically built like a bunker," explains Cason Conn, Senior Project Manager for Tri-Con, Inc., the Cleveland Tennessee-based contractor in charge of the job.

But the outside appearance matches that of the original building. Conn says it can withstand at least 200 mile-per-hour winds, the strength of an EF-5 tornado, and protect against flying debris. The technology of the "intense engineering" as he calls it has been tested by FEMA and is being used for the first time in the area.

"The thickness of the glass which is around two inches thick. The entire window system's about six inches thick. And you have this nice aluminum veneer here, but it's actually reinforced steel," says Conn.

It's peace of mind for senior Taryn Wilson and her friends.

"It'll make everybody feel safer. Because that was a horrible situation and we had never really been through something like that," says Wilson.

"The tornado safety bunker is going to be great, I think," adds senior Ashlyn Wilson.

"It makes me feel a lot safer," says junior Savannah Gondek, whose neighborhood was close to a tornado strike in 2011.

The rest of the funds are coming from the state and the school district. Conn says the addition should be done sometime in March.

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