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Tornado Construction Leader

Designed by TAG architects in Mobile, Taylor-White Elementary School is 
the first built to the state’s first-in-the-nation tornado shelter rules.

Designed by TAG architects in Mobile, Taylor-White Elementary School is the first built to the state’s first-in-the-nation tornado shelter rules.

Rendering courtesy of TAG

Alabama led all states when it passed new school construction regulations in 2010, requiring a tornado-safe room big enough to hold everyone in the building. And Mobile’s new Taylor-White Elementary School, designed by TAG/The Architects Group and slated to open this fall, is the first in the county and perhaps in the state to comply with the new standards for tornado and hurricane shelters.

A six-classroom area of the school is designed to withstand 200 mph winds and flying objects, while being used as normal teaching space at all other times. Special impact-resistant glazing allows the classrooms to have windows.

“While TAG has dealt with hurricane and extreme wind conditions for decades in building design, December tornadoes in the Mobile area and the devastation in Alabama and Oklahoma make it crucial to design for such destructive events,” says TAG principal David Barr.

Alabama’s new regulations for south Alabama require enough space to house everyone in the building for two hours, with toilet facilities and water, and stand firm against winds up to 200 mph — whether the winds are part of a hurricane, a tornado or just an ordinary storm. In northern Alabama, the wind speed requirement is 250 mph. Because southern Alabama has long dealt with codes requiring resistance to 150 mph and now must increase to 200 mph standards, the impact is somewhat less than in northern Alabama, where the new law jumps from inland hurricane standards of 90 mph to inland tornado standards of 250 mph.

A similar law adopted later requires a shelter in new classroom or dormitory buildings on public two and four-year college campuses.

A particular challenge, says project manager Robert Krchak, was trying to comply with new codes before manufacturers had developed products to meet them, so that architects worked with glaziers and roofing manufacturers who were developing the needed products as design was in progress.

Don Gordon Construction was the general contractor for the $8.4 million school.

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