Tornado Safe Rooms | Building Safer Schools

Posted By bsapp – Nov 18 | 2013

Tornado Safe Rooms can Protect Schools and Communities while serving a dual purposes as multipurpose gyms, classrooms, cafeterias and community rooms.

The Midwest is no stranger to tornados but unfortunately when most people think of a tornado shelter they typically think of an underground bunker used only during a storm.  While underground safe rooms do provide a safe place it is hard to effectively make the space serve a duel purpose and can actually cost more than an above ground structure.

Since 2006 Sapp Design Associates Architects has taken a different approach by helping dozen of school districts and communities design their safe room as a multifunctional space that is incorporated into the daily functions of a school or community. Our design team has designed safe rooms that serve as multipurpose gyms, classroom, cafeterias and community rooms.


Recently we have been working with Joplin, Missouri school district’s new Irving Elementary School, which was destroyed by the devastating May 22, 2011 tornado.  The new elementary school features 2safe room that can house the entire school population as well as anyone within a min walk to the schools. The schools main Safe Room can hold well over 1000 people in event of a tornado, but on daily basis functions as the school main gym space featuring bright colors and even FEMA rated windows to provide natural light into the space.

When it comes to building  these structures there is a premium in the cost, However FEMA has grants programs that can help pay for the construction of these safe rooms.  Through the Hazardous Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) or the Pre-Disaster Mitigation program (PDM), FEMA funding for safe rooms can cover up to 75% of the cost of construction for a facility that will provide near absolute protection during an EF-5 tornado.

Kfor TV out of Oklahoma City did a great story on Joplin Schools and the new Irving Elementary School designed by Sapp Design Associates Architects.