Work is underway to add space and safety to Neosho High School. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held Wednesday morning for the first of three Federal Emergency Management Agency funded shelters to be added to the school district in the coming year, which are also being constructed at the South and Carver elementary schools.

Tim Crawley, R-5 assistant superintendent for finance, expressed excitement about the project.

“This is going to be a FEMA shelter that is going to give us 18 classrooms at the high school,” he said. “It’s going to change the front of the high school and what people see.

“It’s pretty exciting when you can add classroom space as well as safety space because typically you hear about FEMA shelters and they are large areas. It was a possibility for us to kill two birds with one stone. We’re going to eliminate some trailers; we’re going to add classroom space for our kids, and we’re going to do it in a way that we’re going to protect a lot of people in the safety area.”

Crawley said the shelter at the high school will be the district’s first two-story structure, with nine classrooms on each floor, all FEMA rated.

“All of this meets the highest FEMA quality as far as what they require for tornado shelters,” he noted. “It also ties directly into the building, so kids won’t have to go from inside the building outside to get to the shelter. That was pretty important to us because we wanted kids to be able to get there quickly.”

Crawley said many such shelters sit empty, unused except in the case of emergency.

“This is one that’s going to have a daily use purpose, so we’re going to maximize that dollar effect,” he said. “They’re expensive but the government is paying for 75 percent of this one. We’re able to pay 25 percent of the total project bill and get 18 classrooms, you just don’t get that every day, so that’s pretty big!”

Crawley said the total on the three projects will cost the district about $6 million, and added that the high school project will take more than $6 million of the about $8 million total cost to construct all three shelters.

The project will bring changes to parking and traffic flow at the high school. He said 66 parking spaces along the front of the building are being eliminated.

“We hope when it’s all put together, it looks like we will still be able to have two-way traffic, and we’ll have the parking up against the fence [facing Neosho Boulevard].” When the trailers come out, Crawley expects to reclaim some parking on the south side of the building.

Equipment was brought in last week and work began to commence at the high school this week. Crawley expects equipment to arrive at South and at Carver schools within a couple of weeks. He expects the pre-formed panels to be delivered to the high school in September, and those will come to South in October and to Carver in November.

Crawley said work will continue through the school year and, “They feel confident so far that we’ll be able to be in this by spring break.” He said this will be the answer to many questions for high school principal Darren Cook,”because if we can get rid of nine trailers, which is 18 classrooms, that addresses a lot of the concerns on this facility.

“We’ll still have a lot of trailers at a couple of our elementaries and our middle school, but anywhere we can eliminate them, I think that’s good,” he added. “And to be able to do it and only pay for part of it, that’s even better.”

He said administrators are working now to alleviate what will be traffic flow issues once school commences for the 2014-2015 term.

“We’ve got some traffic control studies going,” he said. “The city of Neosho has been fabulous to work with and has talked with us about how we can move buses and move the traffic around.”

He said the main entrance to the high school will be at the back rather than at the front, which is closed off during construction.

“We’re entering in the south end of the building where the junior high is located, and we’re also entering on the north end of the building at the atrium,” the assistant superintendent said.

Crawley said they will study and tweak the procedure as they go through the first couple of weeks of the new school year.

“We know that the biggest problem is going to be parent drop off/pickup, and during that time when the buses come through; so we’re looking at staggering some routes as well,” he said.

Crawley said administrators are utilizing summer school as a small-scale model to analyze what works and what doesn’t to get a head start on the new school year; reiterating that parking will be the big issue with the loss of so many spaces.

Crawley said FEMA mandates that the shelters be open to the public whenever storm warnings are posted locally, and a variety of different plans are being set up to ensure that happens.

“Not only is it for our students,” he said, “it’s also for our community.”