City of Blackwell addresses public shelter concerns; Parkside School

by Charles Gerian

Blackwell’s long-abandoned Parkside School is getting new life thanks to the Blackwell Fire Department.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Blackwell City Council, Blackwell Fire Chief Cory Hanebrink received approval from the council to effectively turn the derelict site into a dedicated site for fire service training.

The site will be fenced in and zoned accordingly.

“After our training class, we realized how many missed opportunities we had at that facility,” said Hanebrink.

“It won’t be a burn building or anything of that nature, but we could use it to advance hose lines and ventilation training. There are several options available to us, and we could also share it with the Blackwell Police Department for training as well. There are other agencies interested in using it as well.”

City Manager Jerry Wieland reiterated that this site would be used by agencies county-wide and would be invaluable.

The conversation turned then to the possibility of opening up the former cafeteria as a public storm shelter.

“The problem with that is that if the city were to offer a public shelter, we would be liable for the people coming to that place. The ‘shelter’ as it stands will be repurposed into a classroom for the training that takes place there,” said Hanebrink, “it would be very inexpensive to repurpose that.”

Circling back to the topic of public shelters, Brian Muret with the Blackwell Storm Spotters addressed the council.

“With public shelters, as Cory said, there is a liability issue there. When we used to offer these sites as public shelters, we had issues with people bringing their animals. You’d have 5 or 6 dogs in there at the same time, they get scared, and they bite a kid or something, that comes back on the city.”

It was also revealed that the former public shelter sites were never state-approved for shelter to begin with.

Other issues with public shelters include the time it takes to get to one, staffing, and other logistical problems that would pose a significant liability to the City of Blackwell and any residents harmed trying to access one.

Muret stated that the lowest part of the house and the center of a house, were the safest places in place of having a shelter and that sheltering in place would be more feasible than going to a public shelter.

This Parkside news comes just a month after Blackwell Fire Department hosted a structural collapse training course with Oklahoma State University’s Fire Service Training Team.

The weeklong class, held in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, saw Blackwell and 9 other entities across the state use the abandoned site for real-world training exercises involving breaching walls, clearing debris, tunneling through wreckage, shoring, and more.