HIGH RIDGE, Mo. — The gymnasium at High Ridge Elementary School is also a safe room, capable of withstanding a tornado. The structure was built in 2019 with a portion of the funding coming from a FEMA grant.

“It actually serves as a tornado shelter for our kids and staff at the school but also as a community resource as well,” said Desi Kirchhofer, Northwest R-1 School District superintendent.

If a tornado warning is issued, the budling will be accessible to members of the public as well. The structure is reinforced with concrete and steel.

“The walls can withstand winds of over 200 miles per hour,” said Kirchhofer.

A tornado warning was never issued Wednesday, but district administrators were prepared to use the gymnasium as a shelter if needed.

“We never want to have use it to withstand a tornado, but that’s what it’s built for,” said Kirchhofer.

District officials shifted their attention in another direction when an unexpected crash involved a school bus taking district students home Wednesday.

The driver of an SUV told police her foot slipped off the brake pedal, leading her vehicle to crash into a pickup truck that crashed into the back of a school bus on Gravois Road at the intersection of Route 30.

“We were safely able to get the kids off the bus and transport them on another bus,” said Kirchhofer.

He said no students were injured and the district notified parents as quickly as possible.