A massive, $5 million tornado shelter that could save hundreds of people may be on its way to Fayetteville High School.
Officials already were working to get federal funds for storm protection on Tuesday morning when they learned the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado hit just 7 minutes away from the high school on Dec. 16. That marks the ninth tornado from that storm system.
The City of Fayetteville applied for the multimillion dollar Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant for a unique, tornado safe room. The school district tells WAAY31 shelters have been built using this money in other states, but not in Tennessee.
If approved, Fayetteville High School would be the first.
It's what school leaders, including Eric Jones, who works in the Fayetteville City Schools central office, Assistant Principal Eddie Keys and Superintendent Dr. Janine Wilson have been working on, with safety of students being the priority.
"Our best place as determined by experts that came in, is to go back into the locker rooms in our gymnasium," Jones said, explaining the current procedure during a tornado warning.
Jones explains the concept for the tornado shelter would be massive, holding at least 1,000 people inside.
"A monolithic dome structure, this will be a round, circular structure, made almost completely of concrete with a dome over top of it," Jones said.
Fayetteville school leaders credit the mayor's office for being supportive in the process, and with their help, they look to make the storm shelter a reality. Jones says the structure could withstand winds up to 250 miles per hour and protect from debris.
He says there are about 600 residents near the school who could benefit from using the shelter as well. When the space isn't being used as a storm shelter, Jones says it would be used as a competition gymnasium for the sports teams and classrooms.
He knows the area is always at risk of damaging tornadoes and they have to be prepared.
"Immense property damage and in fact loss of life, you never want to see that, but knowing it is a possibility and having seen it as close as our neighbors in Brindlee Mountain, you always want to do everything you can to protect them," Jones said.
The school district says it could learn if it won the grant in September. If selected, Fayetteville City Schools would have the match 25 percent, or $1.25 million.