Storm shelters at all five elementary schools in Carthage will be finished and ready for students by the beginning of school on Thursday.

Storm shelters at all five elementary schools in Carthage will be finished and ready for students by the beginning of school on Thursday.
Two of the five shelters, at Mark Twain and Pleasant Valley schools, were completed last December while the other three, Steadley, Fairview and Columbian, will be fitted out and ready for use this year, according to Carthage R-9 Assistant Superintendent for Business Mark Baker.
These five shelters, costing a little less than $1 million each, will keep the students, staff and any visitors safe in an EF5 tornado and will be used as much-needed classroom space every day.
Baker said construction of the five shelters has been part of a historic construction binge for the district over the past few years that has also included the construction of Carthage Tech Center South and the early childhood center and the current construction of the Intermediate Center, which will be finished in the next few weeks, and the upcoming reconstruction of the current Middle School on River Street.
Also under construction is the new football stadium and multipurpose facility on the Carthage High School campus.
“We've had more construction in the last 10 years than Carthage has probably had in its history,” Baker said. “The high school 2009, tech center in 2010, field house in 2007 — since that time the debt service levy hasn't changed. The operating levy changed because of the athletic complex, so Carthage has been very supportive. We had two buildings that did not cost any individual taxpayers money to pay for the facilities, the South Tech Center and the early childhood center. We've had close to $2 million in donations for naming rights, so it's a very supportive community.”
The district has been creative in finding the funds to build many of its buildings.
The South Tech Center and early childhood center were paid for with local donations, grants and federal funds.
State Rep. Tom Flanigan and State Sen. Ron Richard pushed through a bill in the Missouri State Legislature that allowed the Carthage School District a one-time chance to transfer more money than normally allowed from its operating fund to its capital fund to pay for the elementary storm shelters.
It has also turned to taxpayers for support, and those taxpayers responded in 2014 by approving an extension of the current 83-cent debt service property tax levy to praise $18 million for the Intermediate Center and Middle School reconstruction.
In August 2015, voters also increased the general revenue property tax levy by 40 cents for 10 years to pay for the $10 million athletic complex.
Baker said it's all to accommodate a student enrollment that has increased by 80 to 90 students each year for the past 10 years. He said he can't imagine handling that kind of enrollment growth in the facilities available to the district in 2007.
“It is incredible to think what we used to have in some of these buildings just a decade ago,” Baker said. “We are very grateful to the community as educators. It's been a fantastic ride in the support we get from the community.”