Wadena school tests 'safe room' during state tornado drill

9:45 PM, Apr 18, 2013   |    comments
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WADENA, Minn. - Of all the cool toys that came with the new Wadena-Deer Creek High School, perhaps their coolest is also their biggest.

"It's constructed to withstand 250 mile an hour winds, F-5 tornados. It's pretty much like a bunker almost," said Bruce Boyne, a school district official.

Boyne is talking about a nearly $2 million safe room that houses up to 1,200 people and is outfitted with massively thick paneling.

"I think some of them weigh 70,000 pounds each," he said.

The 7,186 square feet facility got its first test Thursday afternoon during statewide tornado drill.

"Go down the stairs, stay along the left side of the cafeteria," said math teacher Chelsa Goldber to her students.

She, along with her colleagues helped direct the roughly 800 students and staff to the room in a matter of minutes.

"It went well," she said after the drill was completed.

Construction on the room began in April and was completed in November of last year. It's part of a brand new school that replaced the original which was destroyed by a tornado nearly three years ago.

The federal government paid for the majority of the price tag of the safe room. It is the first of its kind in the six state region.

This safe room isn't just for the school, but the entire community with the sheriff's department able to remotely open the outside doors by a switch of a button during an emergency.

"I think it's reassuring and it's good to know that we have it," said school clerk, Joyce Boyne.

Boyne and another janitor were working at the school on June 17, 2010 when an F-4 tornado ripped through the building and a good chunk of the town.

"He pulled the door shut," she said of the janitor when they ducked into the science room across the hallway. "And that whole hallway was taken away instantly."

No one was injured.

"But I will remember the cars overturned in the parking lot in front of the building and just thinking how surreal it looked," said Goldber.

And with those images still fresh in their minds, Goldber knows this safe room may not wipe away what happened, but it certainly helps if it ever happens again.

"It's something you never think about until something does happen," she said. "Hopefully you never have to worry about it."

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