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The Protected School (1965)
Paul and Elizabeth Nelson
  • Map
  • Highlights
    A new school for the nuclear age
    Underground classrooms and other facilities
    Entrance vestobule decontamination shower
    Bright environment
    Latest equipment
    Education, protection, community center
  • Transcript
    In Webb County, Texas they grow cactus and kids. The cactus can protect itself, but of course the children can't. The coming of the nuclear age has created a whole new host of problems, but man has always learned to adapt to his environment, and he's learning now to protect himself from nuclear as well as natural disaster.
    That's why Webb County has a new school: The United High School, just outside Laredo. Something new and special under the sun and hopefully one of the first of many to come. In short, the protected school.
    The building is solid and modern with a handsome exterior of stonework and cast concrete panels with exposed Texas river gravel. The handsomeness of the architecture presents an air of cheerfulness. In fact the architect, Wyatt C. Hedrick and Associates, has translated the requirements of the superintendent and the school board into a bright, inviting, functional, and secure environment. A building that can house 540 students and shelter approximately 2000 persons from radioactive fallout in case of nuclear attack or from a natural disaster.
    Classrooms are located on the below-grade floor. To reach this students descend by a spacious stairway. All areas in this lower level are air conditioned. In this cool, fresh atmosphere students are more alert. As one teacher put it, "You don't know how nice it is to have kids looking at you and listening instead of staring listlessly out the windows."
    This lower level also contains the library, the principal's office, the cafeteria, science labs, and storerooms. The cafeteria's kitchen and the home economics' kitchen on this floor can be readily adapted to mass feeding in an emergency. The upper floor has a beautifully equipped auditorium seating 466 and a gymnasium with pull-out seats for 1000 persons.
    The entrance vestibule houses a unique feature: a decontamination shower. In the event of a nuclear attack, persons entering the building can remove outer garments, and the shower will wash out radioactive fallout. 
    The total cost of this school with its modern educational facilities, air conditioning, and fallout protection for its students, teachers, and the surrounding community was $704,000. This was raised through a public bond issue approved by the voters. The building contains 68,000 square feet, and the school board was most happy with $10.35 per square foot cost as against $11 per square foot for other more conventional schools in the area without air conditioning.
    The cost for providing the structural shielding to protect against fallout radiation was only 30 cents of the $10.35 per square foot cost. The 14 in. reinforced concrete slab over the classrooms serves as the floor of the gymnasium above and acts as a shielding for the below grade area.
    For students and teachers there's no awareness being underground because of the skillful use of colors, lighting, mirrors, and glass walls opening into corridors. The reception foyer on the lower level is a large room with tile and mosaic walls brilliantly lighted. Colorful paintings, plants, and modern furnishings create an inviting atmosphere.
    The school district has been able to provide the school with the best and latest equipment in shops and labs. The school has electric typewriters in its typewriting classroom. The home economics kitchen has the latest equipment and appliances, and there's a shop with modern building trade machines. The language laboratory has the most modern tape recording and listening equipment for the teaching of both English and Spanish.
    In addition to the minimum requirements of the Office of Civil Defense for a community shelter, the building has a sewage lift pump, an  emergency generator, and its own water well inside the building. There are also storage rooms for shelter stocks of food and medical supplies.
    Through proper architectural design, this main school space is made to serve three purposes: education for the children, protection from natural or nuclear disaster, and finally an attractive and useful center for community activities.
    The people of Webb County like their new school. So do other communities where the idea of the protected school has already spread in Washington, Florida, Oklahoma, New York, New Mexico. They've learned that a school can be more than just a place for learning, that it can also be a place for living if disaster ever strikes.