New Storm Shelter Requirement Affects Most Kentucky Schools

Applies to New Buildings After January 1, 2019

The winds of change are blowing in with updates to Kentucky’s building code this year. Starting January 1, 2019, any new P-12 school built to accommodate more than 50 students will be required to provide a storm shelter large enough for all of the school’s occupants. Nearly every District in the state will be affected, with only a few exceptions in far Eastern Kentucky.

Source: ICC 500

Ohio adopted a similar requirement for storm shelters in schools back in 2017, but this June the Ohio General Assembly enacted a moratorium on the code, effectively postponing the requirement until September 2019. No similar postponement has yet been enacted in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s adoption of the 2015 International Building Code (IBC) means new schools will have to provide shelter from winds of up to 250 miles per hour. It looks to the International Code Council (ICC) 500 standard to define the areas impacted as well as the characteristics of the shelter spaces required. In order to meet the new code, new schools built in districts located within the 250 MPH wind zone on the map above must include storm shelter spaces that provide:

  • a structural system (including roof and walls) that can withstand 250-mile-per-hour winds
  • dedicated and protected HVAC systems and restrooms
  • ADA accessibility
  • clear access and egress paths

Our designers are already laser-focused on developing cost-effective solutions to this new requirement. Our primary goal is to find innovative ways to meet the new code without placing an additional burden on districts that are already challenged with limited funds.

Oversized corridors may be the most obvious candidate for creating shelter spaces, but eliminating interior windows can be problematic in these core spaces where visual transparency and sightlines are important for building security. Installing dedicated HVAC systems and additional restrooms in corridor spaces that are centrally located in the building can also prove costly.

Media centers may also be viable options, as those spaces are typically large enough to accommodate large groups. If located at the building’s perimeter, limited use of exterior storm-rated shutters may be a way to preserve important views and still provide the necessary safety.

One thing we know is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to meeting this new requirement, yet the challenge to create safer educational environments is already a passion of ours. Kentucky has already seen the devastating impact tornadic storms can have on our schools, and this new code provides an added incentive for all of us to think critically about how to keep our students and teachers safe.