JOPLIN (AP) - When Joplin residents approved a $62 million bond issue last week, they agreed to fund more than just new schools.
The bond issue and about $122 million from insurance, donations and state and federal aid will also pay for 20 to 25 community storm shelters that could hold school functions or be used as gymnasiums, classrooms or kitchens.
Plans call for building a storm shelter in every school in the Joplin district - aside from North and South middle schools, which already have tornado shelters for students - at a cost of $15 million, with about $5.6 million coming from bond proceeds. Six schools were completely destroyed by the May 22, 2011, tornado, which killed 161 people.
Dianne Huddleston said if there had been community storm shelters in Joplin, things might have been different for her family when last year's tornado hit.
The family had left high school graduation ceremonies and was only blocks away from its home, which had a basement, when the tornado picked up the family's Suburban and tossed it. After landing, her family members took refuge in a dentist office.
Their daughter, Emily, eventually was taken to a hospital in Parsons, Kan., to be treated for a severe leg injury. She underwent surgery and stayed in the hospital 11 days.
Huddleston said she remembers passing several schools on the family's way home from the ceremony.
"If there was a storm shelter (in the high school), we would have stopped," she said. "We drove past Irving and into the tornado not knowing where we were going. We wanted to be home."
It's estimated that the community shelters would have room for the district's more than 7,100 students and staff, as well as space for more than 20,000 others.
"We had 3,000 kids exposed to that tornado up close and personal in the disaster zone and we deal every day with trauma," said Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff said. "There is no doubt in my mind that we would have lost dozens, if not hundreds, of students in that storm, and injuries would have been unfathomable if it happened during a school day."
Huff said safe rooms were identified in the district's long-range plan before the tornado, but after the storm, school officials wanted to go beyond just protecting students and staff.
"We feel a strong responsibility to provide a similar type of safe location for the community as well around our school," he said.
Still, some responsibility for safety will fall on residents, who will have to decide if they have time to get to a shelter, he said.
"It's going to come down to common sense of individuals and seeking shelter in a timely manner," Huff said. "After everything we've experienced here in Joplin, I hope we're a lot smarter than we were prior to May 22 and that we seek shelter quickly in the event of another storm."