New buildings would provide tornado safety

By Scott Halasz

[email protected]

XENIA — Xenia Community School officials are not only committed to providing the best possible education, they are also adamant about doing it in the safest way possible.

If the November bond issue passes and the district is able to construct a new high school and middle school complex, the buildings will be more-than adequate where weather safety is concerned.

Always a concern in Xenia — which has been hit by several tornadoes including the F5 in 1974 — the new buildings would have tornado safe areas which meet today’s standards. The current plan calls for separate high school and middle school wings, connected by a common area. There will also be an athletic center and performing arts center.

Former Xenia assistant principal Norm Aukerman is leading a charge against building these schools, passing out information regarding the safety of the proposed schools versus the current buildings.

“The No. 1 motive is those buildings … are the No. 1 tornado safe buildings in America,” Aukerman said. “The buildings that they want to build are not. We’ve got enough tornado safe buildings to not have to build anymore.”

Rick Westerberg, an engineer assistant at the National Wind Institute in Lubbock, Texas, said there is no real definitive way to rank building safety and even determine if they qualify as tornado safe by today’s standards. However he did confirm that neither the ICC nor FEMA standards existed in 1974, and while there appears to be structural strength to the current high school, it would still need some major upgrades to the doors and windows to meet current standards.

According to a statement from the design team, which includes the architect and structural engineer, each of the proposed buildings would have a tornado-safe area inside or adjacent “which would be designed to a higher tornado safety standard than the existing high school.”

The safe areas would be built to meet ICC 500 and FEMA P-361 regulations, which are the standards for building community shelters. According to the ICC 500 requirements, shelters have to be built to withstand 250 mile per hour winds, and have to keep high-speed flying debris from puncturing the walls and roof.

“The students housed in the tornado shelter planned for our new buildings would be as safe or safer than at Warner Middle School or the high school,” said architect Michael S. Ruetschle.

In addition, the design team recommends that the rest of the school be enhanced to withstand a higher wind speed (120 mph vs. 90 mph code minimum), include laminated exterior windows, and have all exterior concrete block walls grouted solid, which is what was done at all five new elementary schools.

Westerberg agrees with the current plan.

“If it’s designed to (ICC 500) standard, the new building would be acceptable as long as they have met those standards,” he said. “I can not fault that plan. It would be inconceivable and very expensive and not necessary to design a building to withstand a tornado.”

Superintendent Denny Morrison said they would not build a building that did not provide protection.

“We just want to make sure the kids are safe,” he said.

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.