CN breaks ground on Head Start storm shelter
STILWELL – Cherokee Nation leaders broke ground recently on the first of six new storm shelters being constructed at the tribe’s Head Start campuses located throughout northeast Oklahoma.
Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., Marshal Shannon Buhl, Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis and Head Start Director Verna Thompson gathered in late September with Head Start students and staff at the Cherry Tree campus in Adair County to break ground.
The above-ground storm shelters will protect around 300 toddlers, preschoolers and staff throughout the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction. When not in use as storm shelters, the buildings can be multipurpose facilities.
“Here in the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation, we must be prepared to respond when dangerous thunderstorms develop in and around our communities,” Crittenden said. “While we hope we never need to use these buildings as storm shelters, it gives us peace of mind to know our children and staff will have a safe place to be if a life-threatening storm develops in their area. I’m glad to see work begin on these new shelters.”
Storm shelters built at the tribe’s Head Start campuses will be for the use of students, teachers, parents or visitors who are on-site during an emergency. Each shelter will be approximately 230 square feet and have an occupancy rate of around 40. They will not be open for general community use.
Funding for the shelters was provided by an $800,000 grant awarded to the tribe in 2017 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Indian Community Development Block Grants are meant to improve housing conditions and community amenities and to stimulate economic development across Indian Country.
“I can think of no better investment than in the safety of our children and our Head Start staff,” Hoskin said. “I commend the Cherokee Nation departments that had a hand in securing federal dollars for these projects. Once complete, these facilities will give us peace of mind for years to come.”
The tribe’s Head Start program worked with the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service and Cherokee Nation Emergency Management to apply for the grant.
Along with the Cherry Tree campus, the Head Start campuses receiving storm shelters are the Redbird campus in Stilwell, Jay campus in Delaware County, Kenwood campus in Delaware County, Wauhillau campus in Nowata and Pryor campus in Mayes County.