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The Northeast School District’s new Fine Arts Center is also the first tornado Safe Room in Iowa built on a school campus.

Mary Lou Hinrichsen/Clinton Herald
Herald Staff Writer

Standing ovations were the mood of the day here Sunday as students, parents, staff and community members turned out to attend the grand opening of the Northeast Community School District’s new Fine Arts Center and tornado Safe Room addition to the Junior/Senior High School.

The guest speaker of the day, Rosanne Malek, a consultant for gifted/talented and arts education for the Iowa Department of Education, introduced herself to the audience with a performance on a grand piano.

She got a standing ovation then and another one at the end of her remarks, during which she described growing up in a small Iowa farming town and her experiences as a world-renown concert pianist.

She complimented the Northeast community for labeling the new facility as a Fine Arts Center instead of just an auditorium. She called it “a beautiful gift” to the students, who will use it for the display of their many  kinds of art.

Superintendent Jim Cox, who was recognized for his vision and perseverance in bringing the Fine Arts Center into being, also received a standing ovation at the close of his reflections about the two-year effort.

 Cox reflected on the challenges involved in making the new fine arts center, and the safe room, a reality.

He recalled that the voters of the Northeast School District voted to allow an existing one-cent sales tax to be used for the new construction (in earlier years it had been used to repair roofs, replace doors and windows and improve athletic facilities).

“The funding for the safe room required completing a difficult application,” said Cox.  “There were hundreds of calls that had to be made to Homeland Security.”

He was successful in getting FEMA funds to strengthen the building so it could be used as a tornado Safe Room.

The Safe Room wall panels have up to 799,000 pounds of force applied to them by the pre-stressed cabling. According to the architect, this is three times the normal force required for panels of this size and is designed to protect against an F-5 tornado.    

The Safe Room is the first of its kind in Iowa to be built on a school campus. The wall panels have enough insulation inside of them to cover 1.28 acres of land with 3 inches of insulation.

The development, and building, of the arts center was a long and challenging process, Cox shared.

He congratulated Northeast School Board members, and all those  involved with the Fine Arts Center, for “maintaining a vision” and having the follow-through to make it a reality.

“There were difficult days,” said Cox.  “I’m certain at times our board members must have wondered about my sanity.”

Cox said he remembers being asked if fulfilling the vision of a fine arts center was worth all the effort it required.

 “I did think about that question a lot,” said Cox. “But, looking back, every minute of effort was worth it.”

Cox’s role in making the new Fine Arts Center a reality was praised by Northeast Board President Chuck Corr.

“Superintendent Cox helped us stay focused on our vision for the center,” said Corr. “He was the captain of our ship and kept us on course.”

At the close of the celebration, a chorus of 78 students sang under the direction of Laura Horst and brought the audience of nearly 500 people to its feet. An open house followed the ceremony.

Correspondent Andy Leheny contributed to this article.

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