Jackson to get new tornado safe room

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Continuing a commitment made nearly 50 years ago to improve the health and well-being of residents of Jackson, the not-for-profit Southeast Missouri Medical Center Inc. is planning to build a $5 million community center containing a state-of-the-art tornado safe room that will be donated to the city upon completion.

The 26,300-square-foot facility in the works on East Deerwood Drive next to Whitey Herzog Baseball Stadium will contain a 12,600-square-foot safe room built to withstand 250 mph winds from an F-5 twister and could shelter nearly 2,000 people. It would also serve as a base of emergency operations after such an event.

In May 2003, a F-3 tornado touched down in Jackson that left a two-mile path of devastation through the city. People huddled in basements and hallways as more than 300 structures were damaged or destroyed, including the police and fire departments, which operated out of various borrowed spaces in the aftermath. A mobile Salvation Army kitchen assisted those in need and the Red Cross set up a shelter at the Immaculate Conception Parish Hall. Emergency vehicles from around the region crowded the Country Mart parking lot, ready to help.

The Southeast Missouri Medical Center was formed in 1965 in an effort to bring better physicians and health care to Jackson. Its first major goal was to build a hospital.

"As time has gone on, that focus has broadened a little bit," said Steve Elefson, board president of the center. As major medical services were established nearby in Cape Girardeau, he said, the need for a hospital lessened and the organization looked at other ways to enrich the community.

Pledges collected from local business leaders and residents over the years provided the funding for such projects as the Jackson Family Clinic, Jackson Manor, 24-hour ambulance service for the city and the first defibrillator for Jackson Fire Department. The Southeast Missouri Medical Center later donated the land on which Orchard Elementary and Jackson Middle School now sit and provided the seed money for tornado sirens in 2006.

Discussions about building a community center using funds from the sale of Jackson Manor began that same year, during the tenure of Mayor Paul Sander, Elefson said. Originally, there were ideas to include a historical display room and space to consolidate the Jackson Public Library and Riverside Regional Library along with facilities for community events, but the project stalled due to the differing needs of the various entities involved.

"It became all-encompassing and grandiose so was too expensive and was dropped," Mayor Barbara Lohr said by email Friday.

However, the Southeast Missouri Medical Center kept the plan alive and, this past March, Elefson approached the Jackson Board of Aldermen with a proposal to engage the city as a municipal sponsor of a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that would fund 75 percent of a dome-shaped public tornado safe room to be included as a major part of the community center.

Municipalities and public entities, such as schools, which have a local hazard mitigation plan are eligible for a FEMA safe room grant. The engineers and architects working on the community center alerted the Southeast Missouri Medical Center Inc. to the opportunity to include such structure in the community center, Elefson said.

The cost of the reinforced steel and concrete building is estimated at $2.4 million, $1.8 million of which would be provided by the FEMA grant. Jackson agreed to sign on, and Elefson said his group received a relatively quick response from the state saying it was approved to formally apply for the money.

"Everything just kind of worked out right," Elefson said.

"It's just a stunner, quite frankly," said Jim Roach, city administrator, upon hearing the detailed proposal presented to the city June 18 by Brian S. Foxworthy, principal architect for incite Design Studio LLC of Overland Park, Kan., who is planning the project for the Southeast Missouri Medical Center.

Preliminary plans include a community hall, two meeting rooms, catering kitchen, concessions area, historical room, resource room, administration offices and the safe room, a multipurpose area that will also serve as a gymnasium and performing arts venue.

Similar to the original plan, the resource room may ultimately accommodate the relocation of the city library and bring "a new focus on an electronic library with emphasis on electronic media," Lohr said.

Should the grant be awarded, there is a 30-month time frame for completion of the project, Elefson said. Afterward, the organization will donate it to the city.

"City staff will then operate the facility depending on funding available," Lohr said.

Even if the grant does not come through, the Southeast Missouri Medical Center intends to complete the community center minus the safe room, Elefson said, in keeping with the organization's mission to continue to invest the money pledged by its founders to enrich the community.



Pertinent address:

E. Deerwood Drive and Greensferry Road, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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