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Mayor: James Clemens High will no longer open as community storm shelter

MADISON, Ala. - For the past few years, the city of Madison has opened James Clemens High School to community members during tornado watches.

But that will no longer be the case, Mayor Paul Finley said Wednesday. He advises you to make other plans if this was your shelter of choice.

"It had been an executive decision before, just not something that we thought was sustainable, and in the overall best interest," Finley commented.

Finley said the usage was dwindling over time, and that was part of the decision.

"In some instances, only two people are there over a period of hours of a tornado watch," he said.

He added that even though it's school property, Madison city staff who were in charge of opening the school during those times. That presented another problem he thought needed to be corrected.

"We had used tornado watches as our trigger point," he said. "It took us at times up to an hour to sometimes get somebody to the school. That's not helping anybody who thinks they can get in immediately."

He added, "There is no value that you can put on a life. But folks are going to be better off where they are in most instances than trying to get into a shelter that we couldn't always guarantee was open."

Mayor Finley said he made the choice during the November weather event, after he came into office and determined there were better use of resources. He said he feels confident about the decision.

"That shelter was built for our students, so from a city standpoint fiscally it didn't make sense in some instances, definitely from a timing standpoint," he said. "If we opened James Clemens, a police officer was always in place. Sometimes, two officers. Madison is minimally staffed right now to start with. Those officers need to be out in the different areas, taking care of our citizens."

He will be looking for other places for the community to seek shelter, Finley said. But he believes the best way he can help in terms of city safety is to find who will lead the community through any potential disasters.

"The biggest impact Mayor and Council are going to have when it comes to storms, is to make sure we hire the best possible police chief and best possible fire chief," he said.

There are other shelters available in Madison and the surrounding area. Below are just a few:

  • Good Shepherd United Methodist Church
    1418 Old Railroad Bed Road
    Madison, AL 35757-6613
    Capacity: 100 people
    Open when there is a tornado watch or warning issued for Madison or Limestone counties. Call (256) 232-3331, option 3 (if the shelter is open, the shelter phone will be manned.) No pets allowed.  Please make other arrangements for your pets before severe weather arrives.
  • Crosswinds United Methodist Church
    8089 Wall Triana Highway, Harvest AL 35749
    Capacity: 400 people
  • Harvest Youth Club
    230 Lockhart Road
    Harvest, AL 35749
    *Shelter opens any time there is a tornado watch issued in Limestone County.  Above-ground shelter, holds 125 people; 1 bag per person, no pets, only service animals
    Phone number is (256) 217-0320 – but phone is not located in shelter, so if they’re inside, they won’t be able to answer.

To find a shelter near you, click here.

New schools are required by law to have shelters built into the building for use during school hours. Here's a WHNT News 19 report about school storm safety.