FEMA grant to make big changes for White County Central recess

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published December 6, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 5, 2012 at 10:16 a.m.
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Emily Van Zandt

Though it won’t be equipped with slides and swings, a new indoor recess facility will give White County Central Elementary School teachers more options during inclement weather. The facility is set for completion by fall 2013.

Students in the White County Central School District will soon have more room to run — safely, of course.

Thanks to a $941,288 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Judsonia-based school district is preparing to begin construction on a 5,000-square-foot building that will serve as a spot for indoor recess and assemblies for the district’s kindergarten through sixth-grade classes. The space will also serve as a “Safe Building” for the school and community, hence FEMA’s involvement.

“[The new building will be] in a spot where we just demolished the old elementary school,” district superintendent Sheila Bowen said.

The building will be behind the district’s K-6 building and connected via a covered walkway. Plans for the space include men’s and women’s restrooms, space to house the school’s computer servers and a large gym-like area with a slightly padded athletic floor and two drop-down basketball goals, Bowen said.

The athletic floor and basketball goals were added with recess in mind. In a district that houses all students on one campus, space is at a premium. When temperatures below 32 degrees or rain means younger students can’t go outside for recess, district administrators and teachers have to make do with what space they can find.

“When we do have inclement weather, we’re all sharing one multipurpose building,” K-6 principal Sandra Hurst said. “If there’s not space available in the multipurpose room because of a high school gym class or practice, we sometimes have to use the cafeteria, classrooms or hallways for recess.”

According to state guidelines, students in kindergarten through the sixth grade need to have 90 minutes of scheduled physical activity per week, in addition to 60 minutes of physical education classes. Hurst sees the new building as a way to better meet these guidelines while keeping students safe, dry and warm.

The K-6 building also lacks a room where all 385 students can gather for assemblies and meetings. The school uses a Positive Behavior Intervention System that includes morning assemblies and Friday-morning parties to encourage and recognize good behavior. But with space the way it is, Hurst has had to limit those gatherings to smaller groups on rotating days. Using the system, Bowen said, has helped cut discipline cases at least in half. Bowen said that with more space, the staff will be able to see the PBIS program grow even bigger.

During a tornado warning or drill, students will now head to the Safe Building, rather than being stuck in cramped hallways. The community will be able to head to the Safe Building during that type of weather as well.

“The building really kills two birds with one stone with its added benefit to the community as a Safe Building,” Bowen said. “It will be open to them so they can come in here when the weather warrants in the evenings.”

The construction plans will follow FEMA guidelines, including no glass, no windows and prefab concrete walls and ceilings, Bowen said. The district is looking into the possibility of installing a system that would automatically unlock the doors to the building when tornado sirens in the area are activated, Bowen said.

“When you hear stories like the ones that came out of Joplin, Mo. after the tornado and all the tragedies that can happen out of that, the responsibilities of having this many students on campus becomes a big concern,” Bowen said. “We have buildings and plans for tornadoes, but to really have a designated Safe Building is going to be so important.”

The completed price for the facility is projected at more than $1.2 million, with additional funds coming from the facilities unit of the Arkansas Department of Education and the district itself. Opening construction bids were accepted Tuesday, with construction slated to begin after the first of the year, Bowen said. With no major delays, the building should be ready for use at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Associate Features Editor Emily Van Zandt can be reached at .

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