Horry County Schools plans to add more than a dozen modular classrooms by 2025 — Here’s what that means for tornado safety

Grand Strand

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — More than a dozen more modular classrooms are likely coming to Horry County Schools within the next five years.

And as the temporary growth solutions become more permanent fixtures on school campuses, more and more students will have to follow different protocols in the face of extreme weather.

Students in modular classrooms evacuate the structures and enter the main school buildings if there’s the potential for a tornado to be in the area.

Under state law, schools have to have at least two weather-related drills a year, although administrators can do more.

“Principals take school safety very seriously,” said David Beaty, the coordinator for school safety and security for Horry County Schools.

Beaty said schools follow guidance about tornadoes, which includes having students go to the lowest part of the main school’s interior to seek shelter. He said the district also stays aware about potential severe weather situations.

“It’s like everything else — you prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Beaty said. 

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report on tornado preparedness for school administrators warns that while advance notice for tornadoes has gone up, areas might only have a minute or two of warning. The biggest hazard in a tornado is flying debris, which is why sheltering in a school’s most interior point is crucial for safety.

The report recommends evacuating students from temporary classrooms to the main school before a storm warning is issued and to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

“These can be death traps,” the report reads. “Portable classrooms are most often constructed like mobile homes; and they are just as dangerous. Any sound tornado safety plan must include getting students out of probable classrooms and into a safe area in the main building, as quickly as possible, to minimize the time [spent] outside and exposed to the elements.”

The modular classrooms — which are essentially satellite wings of the school set onto the ground, not the trailer-like buildings known as portables — have to pass state inspections that any other structure must. Beaty said they also must have sprinkler systems and fire lanes. 

Horry County Schools plans to add additional modular classrooms at a handful of schools in order to manage the district’s growth within the next few years. 

Two new modular classrooms were added at Carolina Forest Elementary School this school year, and four more may be added by 2025, totalling 14 on the site.

Another four were placed at Ocean Bay Elementary School this year, with potentially eight more by 2025, totaling 18. 

River Oaks Elementary School added two this year and may have another eight by 2025, totalling 26 modular units at the school.

The district will be evaluating Pee Dee Elementary, Waccamaw Elementary, Waterway Elementary, St. James Elementary, Carolina Forest High and Socastee High schools for growth.

The district may build additional schools to help manage growth if voters approve a penny sales tax in 2022. 

If the tax passes, 80% of the revenue would be used on future capital projects, including additions and renovations for all the district’s schools and elementary schools, along with constructing and equipping 15 new elementary schools, three new middle schools and three new high schools, among other projects. It would also purchase land for future buildings.

The tax originally went into effect and would end on Feb. 28, 2024. 

Beaty said the district has an “outstanding relationship” with public safety agencies and emergency management teams. When he hears about a potential severe weather day, he immediately passes the information to building administrators, who have other resources they can use. When there’s severe weather, students are led inside. 

Decisions can be made by the district or school depending on how large the scope of the weather event is. 

Last year, an EF-1 tornado ripped through the Loris High School parking lot, generating winds of 90 mph. Cars were lofted and trees were snapped, but no one was injured. The National Weather Service never issued a tornado warning for the area.

Beaty said that students are brought from the modular classrooms into the main school building for severe weather out of an abundance of caution. He said that principals also have online resources and classes they can take advantage of.

“I think they do a great job in keeping the kids safe, as well as the visitors on the campus,” he said. 

Parents should explain the basics of thunderstorms and how tornadoes are formed to children in order to build that safety foundation early, according to Thomas Bell, the public information officer for emergency management with Horry County Government.

“If you get kids started with good habits or behavior young, they are going to be that much better off in terms of preparedness,” he said. 

While the Grand Strand doesn’t see many tornadoes, he said they can touch down and pick up quickly. Storms can often be “pop up” events that blow through, making situational awareness crucial.

If there is a tornado, he recommends going to the most internal room in a building’s lowest floor and to stay away from windows and exterior walls. He said each storm should be treated as dangerous, and that people should not be outside during any thunderstorm.

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