Katrina Impacting K-12 Design

By Staff September 1, 2006

The Gulf Coast has been battered by hurricanes and tropical storms for years, yet local school officials haven’t always taken building design guidelines for natural disaster mitigation to heart. But a year after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, one K-12 school designer says things are improving.

“Initially, many K-12 districts we worked with were slow to embrace the EHPA [Enhanced Hurricane Protection Area] requirements, viewing these ‘added’ building requirements as an unfunded mandate to increase their facility’s initial cost while providing no source of revenue to pay for it,” said Jim Keohane, P.E., a principal and senior mechanical engineer with the Ft. Myers, Fla. office of TLC Engineering for Architecture.

Beginning in 1997, Florida required school boards to design new K-12 facilities to serve as storm shelters for the public, including provisions for portable generators.

Further changes in 1999 expanded EHPA to require, among other things, that mechanical equipment be able to meet wind load and missile impact criteria.

“We still see a wide spectrum of response to EHPA requirements from the districts we work with,” said Keohane. “At one extreme is Palm Beach County, which has a policy of building all new high schools as shelters. These are typically 300,000- to 350,000-sq.-ft. facilities, built completely to EHPA criteria with dual-fueled generators serving the entire facility along with potable water storage, and in some instances, sanitary waste storage facilities to accommodate the public during a major storm event. The other extreme is K-12 districts, which head in the opposite direction, doing the least possible to comply.”

Keohane said these districts tend to be located inland. “But even this approach is starting to change after two back-to-back years of very active hurricane seasons.”