WHEATON, Mo. — Students and teachers are celebrating as a long-term project to build a tornado-safe room officially kicks off.

“I’m really excited for the kids,” said Jackie Banks, Wheaton Parent.

Banks says this project is a big deal for the community, and especially her children.

“I feel just amazing to know how safe my kids are at school now that when weather comes immediately they have somewhere to go,” she said.

That’s the future tornado safe room, underway between the elementary and high schools. This marks the official groundbreaking for the much-anticipated project. The finished structure will double as a school cafeteria. And it will also open up as a community shelter for up to 600 people –something that’s a big priority, given past storm scares.

“We had a tornado hit just feet from our school about four years ago. And students were still here. We were about to load the buses. And that moment, really, in my mind, there there was we were going to find a way to make this happen after that event, and I’m just excited that it’s here and it’s starting,” said Trish Wilson. Wheaton R-3 Superintendent.

Not an easy path. Although voters approved $1,000,000 in bond funding in 2016 – they still needed more. Now that’s becoming a reality, offering future protection in an area that’s short on shelter.

“It’s definitely a peace of mind for myself and for the administration and for our community because there’s not a safe room close to us,” said Wilson.

“I mean, you look around the next closest one that I know of is in Cassville in poverty, you know, so you’re talking to an area that people that want to severe weather does come, they don’t have anywhere to go,” said Clint Walton, RE Smith.

The project is expected to wrap up by August 2023.