School in Seneca Valley School District serving as severe weather shelter

Seneca Valley’s new Ehrman Crest Elementary and Middle School is the first school in Pennsylvania to have a severe weather shelter.

“It adds another layer of safety and security for our students and our teachers,” said Seneca Valley superintendent Tracy Vitale.

It’s a two-story structure with its own backup power and water source. It can hold 1,600 people, all students and staff, inside the school. The roof and walls are concrete. The doors and windows are storm resistant.

“Should a severe weather incident occur, we are prepared,” said Vitale.

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In the 80s, part of Butler County was hit by a major tornado and 9 people died.

“That school is actually located where one of the tornadoes in 1985. It was an F3 tornado. That specific area has history with tornado outbreak of 1985 and an F3 tornado winds were about 140 mph,” said WPXI meteorologist Scott Harbaugh.

The storm shelter can withstand 250 mph winds. The architect said federal building codes were updated in 2018 and Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry adopted those codes to require this shelter in every new school built in Pennsylvania.

“The ultimate goal is everyone can come into this space, hunker down, be safe and technically this building will stand if the rest of the building blew away,” said Jeremy Dwyer with CannonDesign.

Tornadoes are not unheard of in our area. We average 3 to 4 a year. Last year in October, we had 11 tornadoes in one day.

The shelter can also be used for safety in other emergencies.

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