Use bond money for safer schools
The March 1 tornado deaths at Enterprise High School should have Gov. Bob Riley and legislators thinking about how best to use funds from the proposed capital bond issue.
Perhaps, some of the school construction money should be for retrofitting schools with areas where students would be safer.
Experts say school buildings wonít survive direct hits by major tornadoes, but better construction would minimize the damage. The Alabama Building Commission requires school construction to withstand hurricane-force gusts and sustained wind, but not to survive tornadoes.
Many people have a fatalistic attitude about tornadoes: They think they canít do much about a direct hit. Some homes, however, have small safe rooms in their center that are made of reinforced concrete and steel and anchored securely.
Experts say that safe rooms are about the only way to protect children at school from tornadoes.
Decaturís new Banks-Caddell Elementary School has a hardened roof area and reinforced walls. Architect Frank Nola Jr. said the school would be more durable than the older Enterprise school where eight students died from a falling roof and walls.
It is ironic that the state requires school buildings to withstand hurricane-force winds but not tornadic winds, especially in North Alabama where hurricanes rarely hit.
Statistics also show tornadoes donít hit schools often, but one disaster is too many, especially if systems can build safer schools. One architectural expert put the cost of shelters at between $200,000 and $500,000, depending on the number of students.
The state doesnít have the money to retrofit all buildings at one time but it can require new school construction that will not fall in on students.