TUPELO • Tupelo High students filed into the campuses’ new gymnasium for a pep rally Friday morning.

For many, it was their first look at the newly christened facility. But what may seem like an architecturally modern design is really a practical installment that Tupelo Public School District officials are glad to see implemented.

“We got to see 80 percent of our students inside and we’re looking forward to being able to use that facility multiple ways,” said THS principal Art Dobbs.

Its main use is a product of a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, which made the structure possible.

“It’s a storm shelter first and a gym second,” said TPSD director of communications Gregg Ellis. “It’s a major upgrade.”

Able to house more than 2,600 people in the event of a storm, the in-the-round style shelter has 2,100 permanent seats around the court with room for temporary chairs to be brought in.

“We broke ground the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2017,” Dobbs said. “It’s been an amazing journey just to see it from the ground up. Actually being able to see our students in there for the first time is exciting for multiple reasons. The safety side of it but also being able to house an assembly that can hold all our students and staff is a great addition to the high school, the district and the city.”

The FEMA grant paid for 90 percent of the $6.2 million facility.

New drills and evacuation plans will enable students to get across campus and into the shelter on the north side of campus in less than five minutes, should adverse weather conditions loom. Procedures will be put into place to ready the facility against the threat of severe storms once students and faculty are safely inside.

“We put a watch on the time (Friday) and we were very, very happy with the amount of time it took us to get over 80 percent of our faculty and staff inside,” Dobbs said. “We do have some work to do and when we start practicing our drills, our goal will be the least amount of time it takes to safely transport all our students there. The quicker in there, the better we’ll be.”

On the sports side, Dobbs is looking forward to kicking off the new basketball season inside the gym, with a special evening featuring past alumni and coaches being recognized for the opening game.

In addition to the basketball court, the facility offers four locker rooms, weight room, training rooms, men’s and women’s basketball offices and a state of the art sound system and control booth.

“We’re excited to have this and we want to thank everyone that was involved in it for making it a reality,” Dobbs said. “It’s been a long journey but it’s been worth the wait and we’re excited for the level of safety that it’s going to bring to the school district and the city of Tupelo. It’s something to be proud of.”

derek.russell@journalinc.com

Twitter: @wderekrussell

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