Tornado safe room planned at school

By Aubrey Woods | The Tribune

[email protected]

BROWNSTOWN — A project to replace the aging HVAC system at Brownstown Elementary School and add a tornado safe room — and possibly even a gymnasium — was detailed during a recent meeting of the corporation’s board of school trustees.

Superintendent Tim Taylor said he, Assistant Superintendent Jade Peters, elementary school Principal Marty Young and Director of Maintenance Randy Ude have been meeting about the project that won’t start before 2024.

“The plans are very, very preliminary, but we’re kind of getting started on this process,” Taylor said. “We’re also taking some preliminary steps on the grant. We have a grant writer involved. The architects are TowerPinkster (Jeffersonville), and I feel like we are heading in the right direction with this.”

Taylor was referring to a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to help fund the tornado safe room/gymnasium part of the project.

One early roadblock involves a fuel tank that has been found in the proposed area of construction of the safe room, which serves as a connector from the present building to the new gymnasium. Both would be located on the northwest side of the existing building.

Taylor said the fuel

tank, which dates to the 1960s when schools were heated with natural gas but also had to have fuel oil as a backup, will need to be removed regardless of the project.

Peters said the HVAC system was the first priority for the project, and the safe room/gymnasium would be the second.

The HVAC system is the original, installed when the school was built in 1973 and updated at times. Peters said that is causing many mechanical failures as well as not being very efficient.

On Monday, Peters said there is no cost estimate for the project, and it has become difficult to get one with the current state of the economy. The corporation does have $1.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds available for the project.

“While we are currently uncertain of how much the FEMA grant will be, we hope it will help us to be able to afford the tornado safe room/gym,” Peters said. “Our goal is to keep the tax rate level. For us to accomplish a level tax rate, the amount we will be able to take out on a bond will depend on our AV (assessed valuation for the district).”

If the project costs come in high and AV decreases, that would mean the corporation would not be able to add the gym, he said.

“Recently, our AV has leveled off,” Peters said. “Projections show that AV is likely to increase in the coming years.”

That is positive news for the corporation, he said.

Peters told the trustees that school officials are hopeful that with FEMA’s help, the corporation could get the tornado safe room and the gym, which are needed.

The 10,817-square-foot gymnasium, which would have a seating capacity of 1,200, could be split in half to allow for two basketball courts. There would be changing rooms for teams. The gymnasium also would have a stage.