If the tornado sirens sound in West Toledo, students and staff at West Side Montessori simply walk down the hall to safety.
There’s no kneeling in the hallway with hands behind heads, staying as far from windows as possible. The Montessori school has a state-of-the art safe room, which can hold up to 431 people and withstand an EF5 tornado with gusts up to 250 miles per hour.
Lynn Fisher, head of school at West Side Montessori School, views student art work on the wall in the school's new safe room Thursday, October 19, 2017 in Toledo.
“It’s like a concrete bunker,” said Lynn Fisher, founder and head of school.
A capital campaign raised about $2 million to complete the addition, but 75 percent of the safe room’s construction was funded through a $318,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency pre-hazard mitigation grant. West Side Montessori is the first Ohio school to receive those funds for a safe room, Mrs. Fisher said.
“When I first heard about the grant, my feeling was our weather patterns are increasingly volatile and unstable, so why not prepare for the future and the safety of our students?” she said.
The new safe room, unveiled last week, is part of a larger addition that connects the campus’s two buildings into one. It has no windows, but there are working bathrooms in case severe weather lingers.
The addition also includes new classroom space for students as young as 13 months and as old as eighth graders, including a designated art room and a music room. There’s also a new gymnasium, the first in the private, non-profit school’s 42-year history.
Steve Ferryman, a hazard mitigation officer with the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, said all counties in Ohio are at risk for tornadoes. So far there have been 25 twisters spotted in the state this year, though all have been relatively weak.
A tornado safe room sign is posted in the safe room at West Side Montessori School Thursday, October 19, 2017 in Toledo.
Three other Ohio sites have received FEMA pre-hazard mitigation grant funding for a safe shelter, including a mobile home park in Lincoln County, a Boy Scouts camp in Preble County, and Delaware State Park in Delaware County.
“Ohio is on the eastern edge of tornado alley, and the entire state is susceptible to an EF5 tornado, anywhere in the state,” Mr. Ferryman said.
West Side Montessori’s safe room is intended to be available as a shelter at all hours of the day.
If school is not in session and the sirens sound, a school official will be at the school within five minutes to unlock the doors and allow community members to take cover, Mrs. Fisher said. Staff members are in the process of adding signs along the road to let their neighbors know about the new room.
“Anybody who is close by, who can get here within five minutes of a warning, is welcome to come in,” Mrs. Fisher said. “We have a brand new apartment development with 50-some units, and none of them have basements. They could easily get here in time.”
The safe room could also be used as a shelter in other emergencies. Should an active shooter get on campus, students and staff could hunker down in the room that has no windows and heavy, secure doors.
Seventh graders Bryson Richards, 12, Chianna Kujawa 12, and Allsion Launder, 12, play pails and lids in the new music room at West Side Montessori School Thursday, October 19, 2017 in Toledo.
Barb Bauchman Bedsole, the school’s music teacher of 32 years, said the safe room gives parents peace of mind that their children will be protected at school in case of an emergency.
But to her, the addition means more than safety. She said having a new gymnasium, and the art and music classrooms shows how much value the school puts into educating children beyond the core subjects of science, math, reading, and writing.
“This is wonderful. This is a dream come true,” she said.
The school will celebrate the new addition from 6-8:30 p.m. on Friday at 7115 W. Bancroft St. with choir and musical performances, a free-throw contest, science activities, crafts, Zumba, face painting, balloons, Irish dance, a photo booth, Toledo Zoo animals, and food.
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