For Jasper students, wandering the school district's new safe room is old hat — they've been using the building as a cafeteria since the beginning of the year.

For Jasper students, wandering the school district's new safe room is old hat — they've been using the building as a cafeteria since the beginning of the year.
And some students are impressed.

"We love it," said Hallie Corle, 10. "We love how big it is."

"The new cafeteria is way better than the old one and it is really cool as a gym," said Madelyn Gastel, 10. "The hallway leading to it is neat and it has cages around the exit signs. I broke an exit sign one day playing dodge ball in the other gym when the coach had me throw him the ball."

For some residents, though, Wednesday's open house was the first time they had been inside the new structure and some of them were impressed.

"This was a great deal as far as I can see," said Jasper Resident George Case, who attended Thursday's public meeting and open house, hosted by the Jasper Board of Education.

"The school has been needing a practice gym and cafeteria for a long time," Case said. "They did a good job getting this all together and I'm pleased that they've got somewhere to go in case of a tornado."

The open house on Jan. 16 also served as a public meeting required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to inform the public of the availability of the safe room and how it will be opened in case of a severe storm.

Superintendent Rick Stark gave residents a half-hour briefing on who would be responsible for opening the safe room in case of a tornado warning and how thing would work in case of a storm when school was in session and when school was out of session.

Stark said he and the two building principals will be responsible for checking the safe room on days when the area is put under a tornado watch and opening it to the pubic if Jasper is placed under a tornado warning.

If a tornado warning is sounded during when school is in session, students will be first in the room, then the public can be admitted.

When school is not in session, anyone who can get to the safe room before conditions are so bad the doors must be closed will be welcomed.

Stark said the official tornado zone the district's safe room is supposed to serve doesn't include all of Jasper, but that doesn't mean Jasper residents outside the safe zone can't come to the safe room.

FEMA's official safe zone is a half-mile circle around the safe room and covers the western part of town and rural area west of the railroad tracks in Jasper.

"I'm not really personally concerned about that because of the fact that the capacity of the safe room is 1,615 people," Stark said. "I looked up the census back in 2010 and I think the entire population of Jasper at that time, I think it was 931 people. If you take that 931 people and then you look out in the rural areas, it's very hard to come up with 1,600 people so I'm really not concerned about that."

In the meantime, Stark said the builders are making progress converting the school's former cafeteria into classroom space.

The former cafeteria is being converted into an elementary art room, elementary music room and two special education classrooms as well as special education office space.

He said he hopes that conversion will be done by the end of January, although that is a tentative conversion date.

Once that conversion is finished, those classes will be moved out of the temporary classroom trailers they've been house in for several years.

He said that will eliminate the need for the district to continue leasing three of the four mobile classroom trailers the district has used for years, saving about $25,000 a year which can go toward the approximately $100,000-a-year payment on the lease purchase agreement used to build the part of the expansion not covered by the FEMA grant.