It took a major ice storm to realize the need for a storm shelter to house those left without heat or power in Dickinson County.
It took a pandemic and the realization that, should county hospitals get overwhelmed, there is limited space for the overflow.
Thirteen years after a crippling ice storm that sent several families without power to Sterl Hall to weather the storm, Sterl Hall is getting a needed addition.
It became obvious after a couple days in 2007 that the county’s convention center lacked the needed facilities to house those until power was restored. Those lacking facilities were showers.
Construction of new bathroom facilities with showers has started at Sterl Hall.
“The whole purpose behind it is to provide us the ability to have a working emergency shelter,” said County Administrator Brad Homman.
Back in December 2007 a major ice storm knocked out power across Dickinson County.
“We opened up a shelter for about a week for people that were displaced because of power and ice problems,” Homman said.
“We learned that we didn’t have enough restroom capacity which is always the case in Sterl Hall, no matter what,” he said. “And we didn’t have any showers for people that were spending the night and were there for multiple days. Not having showers was a real problem. We learned that after the second day.”
He said with the facilities available and a kitchen, it makes Sterl Hall an ideal shelter during a disaster when people are displaced from their homes.
Should county hospitals need an overflow for patients, Sterl Hall will be a prime shelter.
“If things do get worse, and I hope it doesn’t, if the hospital gets overwhelmed and we have to open another space for COVID patients, that space will probably be at Sterl Hall as other communities have done,” Homman said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that but we are going to be prepared if it does.”
The little over $200,000 cost for the project came from COVID-19 relief in the form of CARES and SPARKS grants.
Homman said that no local tax dollars will be spent on the facility.
“During a normal year, whatever that is because I don’t remember what that is, but during a normal year, that also allows the (Central Kansas Free) Fair Board a lot of flexibility in the fact they have more capacity for bathrooms,” he said.
In addition to the Central Kansas Free Fair, Sterl Hall has been rented for meetings, events such as the 4-H Banquet, Conservation Banquet, Farm Bureau Banquet, greyhound racing auctions and shows such as the gun show.
In the upcoming months, Sterl Hall will house Dickinson County District Court staff during the renovation of the Dickinson County Courthouse.
There will be divider walls which can split the convention center into two parts, each with separate bathroom facilities.
“Two people could actually lease it for two separate events which is something we have not been able to do,” Homman said.
“It should give the fair board a lot more flexibility on how it can be used,” he said.
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.