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Inside Simonsen Ninth Grade Center during the May tornado


Six months after a Jefferson City tornado scored a direct hit on Simonsen Ninth Grade Center, district leaders continue to look at the safety plans for their buildings.

After suffering extensive damage, Simonsen is now a "surplus" property. Jefferson City School Board members will work through the process of what to do next with the building. Frank Underwood, director of facilities, estimates damages to Simonsen at about $4 million. Underwood said that number could still grow.

An ABC 17 investigation resulted in an exclusive walk-thru of Simonsen Ninth Grade Center, which was one the buildings hit the hardest during the May 22 tornado. Simonsen has four floors, including the basement. Most of the damage was done on the third and uppermost floor. The main damage to the building included a torn-off roof and shattered windows.

ABC 17 News wanted to take a closer look at where students would have been if the tornado hit during school hours. District leaders tell ABC 17 News that all kids inside schools would have been safe if the tornado hit during school hours. Simonsen has four "shelter in place" areas inside the building. None of the safe areas suffered major impacts on the night of the tornado.

ABC 17 News obtained surveillance video that shows the worst damage can be seen on the third floor. Underwood said no students, teachers or staff would have been on the top floor because there is no designated shelter-in-place area there.

Since the tornado happened, Underwood said there's not much district leaders would change about safety plans because those proved to be safe.

"You can't test your architectural engineers. They tell you it's safe, is it safe? When I looked at the video and I see plans that we have drawn up, yes, I was so stoked," Underwood said. "But yes, we still do continually review our plans."

Underwood said one of the first things he did was go through the other building plans to make sure they match up with architectural engineer plans.

Jefferson City School District drill logs show schools are required to do a tornado drill once a semester. Every school in the district completed that requirement, some even doing more.

"Hopefully the kids realize 'hey a tornado can happen here.' So we do our drills, let's know where we are supposed to be and our teachers as well. I think they've got a sense of 'ok this is real, this can happen,'" Underwood said.

Article Topic Follows: ABC 17 News Investigates
jefferson city school district
jefferson city tornado
simonsen ninth grade center

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Deborah Kendrick

Deborah is a weekday evening anchor and investigative reporter for ABC 17 News.


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