Baldwin superintendent presents plan to open shelter to residents
Baldwin School Superintendent Paul Dorathy presented a plan Monday to the USD 348 Board of Education that would make available the district’s new Performing Arts Center as a storm shelter.
Dorathy said he was able to develop the plan after returning from spring break last week and thinking about the issues involved.
The plan as he presented addressed points Baldwin City officials raised when declining to partner in the operation of the Performing Arts Center as a shelter.
Dorathy said he started developing the plan with a call to the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that provided 75 percent of the $4.5 million the Performing Arts Center cost. City officials have said the grant requires the arts center’s door be locked within 10 minutes of a tornado warning being sounded and remain so until an all clear was issued.
That’s not quite right, Dorathy said. It is true, as city officials have said, the Performing Arts Center safe room’s primary function was to be a shelter for students and staff of the high school and junior high and that grant terms mandate the 10-minute rule be followed during school hours, the superintendent said. There was enough room in the auditorium to allow residents in during a school-time storm, he said.
But the grant administrator added that during non-school hours, the Performing Arts Center was the district’s building to operate as it wanted and the grant terms didn’t apply, Dorathy said.
City officials have also balked at being involved with the shelter out of concern police or fire department personnel would not be available during a tornado to open the shelter and man it during an emergency. Dorathy said other communities have resolved that issue by placing battery-powered electronic locks on doors that can be unlocked remotely during a tornado warning or by entering a code obtained by calling a posted phone number.
The drawback of such a system is it would allow unsupervised entry into a district building, Dorathy said. A representative from the school’s insurance carrier said that problem has been addressed elsewhere with the installation of video cameras in buildings.
Dorathy said he presented his findings to Baldwin City Administrator Chris Lowe. He was told that although the city couldn’t assign a police officer to the shelter during a storm, one could come by the Performing Arts Center at some time during the emergency.
The superintendent received the endorsement from the board to work out the details of the plan.
“I applaud your effort,” board member Ruth Barkley said. “I’m pleased we’re not shutting the door on this. I’m all in favor of moving forward.”
Dorathy cautioned the district shouldn’t call the Performing Arts Center a “community shelter.” Those who couldn’t get to the building within 10 minutes of a tornado warning would be safer making other preparations, he said.
When Dorathy informed the board there was still enough FEMA grant money available to pay for 75 percent of the cameras and locks, board member Tony Wedel suggested the city pick up the remaining 25 percent.
“We provide the shelter, and they provide 25 percent for the lock and cameras,” he said.