EDITOR'S NOTE: In North Mississippi, of course, we get our share of storms, some of them producing tornadoes like the Joyner Tornado in 2014. In Tupelo Monday morning, the City of Tupelo -- in a partnership with Tupelo Public Schools -- broke ground on another storm shelter, this one at Tupelo High School. WTVA’s Mike Russell attended the ceremony, and filed this report.
TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) -- Day one after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and not a moment to lose. Almost two dozen key players held golden shovels as they gathered at Tupelo High School to break ground on a 24,000 square-foot multipurpose building. But there's something special about this new project. Not only will it serve as a new gym for the school, it will also serve as a combined command center and storm shelter that can protect the entire population of THS - more than 2000 students.
Monday's groundbreaking was important for a lot of reasons. It was also clearly a source of great pride for the Tupelo Public School District. Construction begins Monday on a tornado shelter that's expected to be unparalleled in North Mississippi.
"Today we are breaking ground on a multipurpose building," said Dr. Gearl Loden, superintendent of TPSD. "[It] will be the largest FEMA shelter and gym in the state of Mississippi, housing over 2000 students..."
"During school hours, the students will be top priority," said Art Dobbs, THS primcipal. "We'll be able to open the doors up and allow as many people as possible into the facility. And on the weekends, it'll be open to the public."
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton, who weathered the 2014 Joyner tornado along with Tupelo citizens, looked at the project from a practical perspective.
"There is a peace of mind of knowing that every students of Tupelo High School can get to a safe place in the event of a tornado or emergency." he said.
The expected cost of this project is just a little over $6 million -- about a third of that will come from FEMA. The architect says the shelter -- with its circular shape -- will be able to withstand anything up to an EF-5 tornado.
The new shelter should be completed late in 2018. It's the fourth school shelter project in the city of Tupelo. Three others include Carver, Joyner, and Thomas Street elementary schools.
FINAL NOTEL: Loden says student safety is one of his top priorities. That's why one of the district's long-term goals is to have a shelter at all 13 district campuses. Again, construction on this one begins Monday.