By JUAN A. LOZANO
EDNA, Texas (AP) â¿¿ Most of the time, the windowless building with the dome-shaped roof will be a typical high school gymnasium filled with cheering fans watching basketball and volleyball games.
But come hurricane season, the structure that resembles a miniature version of the famed Astrodome will double as a hurricane shelter, part of an ambitious storm-defense system that is taking shape along hundreds of miles of the Texas Gulf Coast.
Its brawny design â¿¿ including double-layer cinder-block walls reinforced by heavy duty steel bars and cement piers that plunge 30 feet into the ground â¿¿ should allow it to withstand winds up to 200 mph."There is nothing standard" about the building, said Bob Wells, superintendent of the Edna school district, as he stood inside the $2.5 million gym, which is set to be completed by March. "The only standard stuff is going to be the stuff we do inside." The Edna dome is one of 28 such buildings planned to protect sick, elderly and special-needs residents who might be unable to evacuate ahead of a hurricane. First-responders and local leaders will also be able to take refuge in the domes, allowing them to begin recovery efforts faster after a storm has passed. Storm-defense structures are getting increased attention in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which inflicted heavy damage on the East Coast in October. The city of New York, for instance, is considering a multi-billion-dollar system of sea barriers. For Texas, a state always in danger during hurricane season, the domes offer the extra benefit of serving as recreation or community centers when not needed as shelters. They are being erected with help from the federal Emergency Management Agency. "I think it's good for FEMA, and I think it's good for us. And I think it's good for the taxpayers," Wells said.