By Kate Quesada
When Hillsborough County Schools closed as Hurricane Irma approached the area last month, more than 40 district buildings became shelters for residents that needed a safe place to go to ride out the storm. Many schools in the Eastern Hillsborough County area were among the shelters, including Bloomingdale High School, Barrington Middle School and Stowers and Bevis elementary schools. With short notice to prepare the buildings for the hundreds of residents seeking refuge from the storm, school teachers, staff and administration, parents and community members came together to ready classrooms and common areas.
According to Hillsborough County Schools Communications Officer Tanya Arja, the school district partners with the Hillsborough County Office of Emergency Management and the American Red Cross to provide emergency shelters. All schools are rated and inspected for use as a public shelter, but 62 sites have been identified and designated specifically. Shelters are then opened in waves as the need arises, some are additionally identified to host residents with special needs and some allow evacuees to bring animals.
Colleen Bevis Elementary in Lithia is a designated High Intensity Shelter which opened on September 10 to allow residents a safe place to ride out Hurricane Irma. According to Bevis Second Grade Teacher Amy Terkhorn, school staff and community members received very little notice that the school would be opened as a shelter.
“When we got word the school had been chosen to be a shelter, we only had a couple of hours to get everything ready,” said Terkhorn, who explained that in addition to the multi-purpose rooms, all classrooms on the bottom floor of the school were used by close to 400 evacuees. “Very quickly between 40 and 50 people showed up to help ready the classrooms by moving the furniture to the edges of the rooms and securing teachers’ personal items.”
Bevis Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President Pinkal Patel was one of the volunteers who readied the school.
“It was so impressive to see how many staff members and volunteers came running to help us set up,” said Patel. “It felt like we were ready in two hours.”
“Many teachers came into the school to get their classrooms ready to find notes of thanks for sheltering,” said Terkhorn. “It was extremely heart warming.”
Bevis Elementary is located at 5720 Osprey Ridge Dr. and can be reached at 740-4000. visit hillsboroughcounty.org.