Mayflower community members are thankful for the new addition to the elementary school that will keep students safe during future bad weather.
A bid for nearly $1.2 million from Moser Construction Inc. was approved by the Mayflower School Board in January for the development of a storm shelter.
The 3,100-square-foot, 600-person facility was celebrated during a ceremony Wednesday.
“We’re so very thankful to those who have partnered with us during this process of helping us actually accomplish a vision that we’ve had for quite some time in our Mayflower Elementary campus,” principal Candie Watts said.
She said she wanted to remind everyone present for the ceremony that even though the community had experienced “quite a few tragedies,” they had reason to celebrate.
Mayflower Superintendent John Gray spoke with the Log Cabin Democrat in January about the effects of the tornadoes that went through the community in 2011 and 2014 and said the plans for the shelter were met with positive feedback from nearly everyone he spoke with.
“If you remember back in the time of the tornado, we had 57 families displaced,” he said. “Even [now] when we have tornado drills, it’s emotionally upsetting for kids. So, to give them somewhere safe to go — and they know they have somewhere safe to go — helps with the kids. They just feel better and people understand that.”
Board president Benji Post told guests during the ceremony that he had been a Mayflower resident for 11 years.
“Since I’ve been here I think I can tag this little town as one of the toughest towns in America,” he said. “We’ve endured an oil spill, endured [tornadoes], we’ve endured a fire that was devastating just recently. I’ll tell you, it’s been amazing for me to see how this town pulls together and does things, how our schools pull together and does things.”
He said some of the first people to help with the fire were school administrators, board members and teachers.
“They were there to make sure those kids were taken care of, those families were taken care of, the school was opened up,” Post said. “I’ll tell you, it’s just amazing to be a part of this little town right here.”
Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Adam Bledsoe, who used to be a school resource officer for the district, and National Weather Service’s Dennis Cavanaugh were guest speakers during the ceremony.
“I hate storms,” Bledsoe said.
When he asked the students how many hated them as well, nearly every one of them raised their hands.
“Everybody see this,” Bledsoe said. “Mayflower kids are scared of storms and now they have a tornado shelter. That’s fantastic. You all don’t have to be scared of storms anymore, especially when you’re at school because you have a tornado shelter you can get in.”
Cavanaugh said he didn’t want the students to be afraid that anytime a storm rolls into town that it would bring a tornado but wanted them to be informed and have a weather plan in place.
“This storm shelter is a very important piece of that,” he said. “If a dangerous storm is approaching, to have this storm shelter in place so that before the storm gets here, you and all your friends can get into that shelter and remain safe from the storm so it doesn’t impact you and everybody close to it.”
Gray said a number of thank yous but specifically pointed out the work of the board members — Benji Post, Pat Raney, Sherilee Holland, Delorise Kocher and Terry Turner.
“Ultimately, someone has to say, yes this building can be built and we took it to these board members and they said yes and the fact that they said yes means that building is out there now,” he said. “I think it’s very important to celebrate a great achievement and I think this is a great achievement for the Mayflower School District.”
To build the shelter, Gray said Mayflower received $553,000 from the federal government through a FEMA (federal emergency management agency) grant it applied for, $10,000 from United Way of Faulkner County and $70,000 through funds raised in efforts by Rep. Douglas House.
He previously told the LCD $5,000 was also received from the Rainbow Foundation and $2,600 in general donations and the balance was paid through the school district building fund.