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Cross Plains ISD receives $1.4 million for tornado shelter

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CROSS PLAINS, Texas - A rural school district in Callahan County received more than a million dollars in federal grant money for a tornado shelter the town desperately needs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the Cross Plains Independent School District $1.4 million last November. Last week, the school board hired an architect from Abilene to design the tornado shelter.

Linda Birdwell, who began her job as business manager of Cross Plains ISD in July of 2014, wrote the proposal that won the school the FEMA grant.

"I know this sounds crazy, but God just put me on this path," Birdwell said on Monday.

As part of accepting the FEMA money, the school has 18 months to construct the shelter.

"If it's just one life you saved, or if it's 20 or 60, then that makes a difference," Birdwell said.

Cross Plains ISD Superintendent Phil Mitchell said the shelter will also serve as a gymnasium for the elementary school. Those students currently use the high school's facility.

"I honestly didn't expect to get it," Mitchell said. "But we're lucky we did, and it was kind of a surprise."

Mitchell said the tornado shelter will be open to the city of Cross Plains. It will be 6,000 square feet and hold up to 1,200 people. Cross Plains has a population of nearly 1,000 people.

The last time a tornado hit Cross Plains was on May 29, 1994. The F-2 tornado destroyed 18 homes and damaged 100 houses. It also damaged 90 percent of the businesses in town.

"This time of year it gets bad for Texas, but especially here," Superintendent Mitchell said. "We're … in the tornado belt."

Mitchell said he hopes to start construction on the tornado shelter this summer.

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