Cardinal cafeteria to double as ‘safe room’
ELDON — Cardinal Elementary School is building an addition including two classrooms, storage areas, and the star of the plan — a cafeteria/safe room.
“We’re very excited about this project,” sad Cardinal Superintendent Joel Pedersen. “Student safety is our No. 1 priority. Our district has been impacted by violent storms in the past. The tornado in Agency was a horrible tragedy more than a decade ago. We want to always be proactive especially with our ‘little learners’ at the elementary.”
Around 4 p.m., April 11, 2001, a tornado went through Agency, which is less than 10 miles northwest of Eldon and one of the communities served by the school district.
Mary Ellen Hewitt, 73, and Helen Bacon, 61, both of Ottumwa, were volunteering at an Agency community food pantry that was directly hit. Hewitt died at the scene, and Bacon was airlifted to a Des Moines hospital, where she later died.
Two homes and the community center housing the food pantry were destroyed in Agency in the 2001 tornado; nine homes had major damage and 43 homes had minor damages. Roofs, siding and vehicles were blown around and trees toppled.
“The new safe room will withstand F-5 winds,” said Pedersen.
The 2001 tornado in Agency was reported having F-2 winds.
Cardinal elementary has a multi-purpose room it currently uses for a gym, cafeteria and more; in October — the expected construction completion date of the addition — students will have a new cafeteria, freeing the multi-purpose room for more use as a gym. The cafeteria walls will be built to withstand F-5 winds and will double as the safe room.
The district worked for two years with Homeland Security in Des Moines and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get funding support in the project. FEMA has awarded a $500,000 grant toward the safe room. The balance will be funded through the school district’s portion of Iowa’s 1-cent sales tax.
“The Homeland Security folks have been great to work with throughout this process,” said Pedersen.
“This summer, we’re also upgrading air quality and the electrical service,” he said. “We’ll complete the upgrade of air conditioning and heating and electrical service by Aug. 1. This will provide a more efficient building and improve our air quality.”
Cardinal Elementary School, prekindergarten to fifth grade, has an enrollment of 294 students this year, according to the Cardinal Community School District website www.cardinalcomet.com.