EIT students design tornado shelters for UA Little Rock

Rendering of a proposed tornado shelter designed by UA Little Rock students.

Arkansas lies in a region susceptible to the country’s highest tornado wind speeds — up to 250 miles per hour, according to FEMA.

Twelve students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Department of Construction Management and Civil and Construction Engineering faced a unique problem for their senior design project.

“We were presented with the challenge of designing a tornado shelter that would be between the Engineering and Information Technology building and the Business building,” Dan Blair, a UA Little Rock senior, said. “The goal is to design a building that could resist tornado wind speeds and projectiles.”

Senior class members include Abdulaziz Alanazi, Daniel Blair, Julian Castillo, Jeff Choate, Marie Kabera, Matt Mitchell, Drew Potter, Ross Phillips, Norbert Rungano, Dylan Singleton, David Stinnett, and Jessica Vinson. Professors Dr. Nick Jovanovic and Dr. Hank Bray teach the professional engineering seminar and engineering design project courses and serve as faculty advisers for the project.

Industry sponsors from Cromwell Architects Engineers and CDI Contractors created the design challenge for the seniors. Participating Cromwell members include Joe Hilliard, director of engineering; Mike Callahan, lead structural engineer; Paul Timko, structural engineer; and Larry Newkirk, structural designer. Estimator Daniel Bowen and Senior Project Manager David Cooan joined the team from CDI Contractors.

During the school year, the industry sponsors meet with the students every two weeks to meet project deadlines. They also serve as project supervisors and mentors to the students.  

“We build on the skills they learn all year at UA Little Rock,” said Mike Callahan, lead structural engineer at Cromwell Architects Engineers. “We give the design team a project, and then we guide them from the beginning to the end of the project. We love helping the students see how all the pieces of a puzzle come together in the end.”

Cromwell and CDI have been industry sponsors for the senior design project for the past five years with the goal of serving the community.

“It’s a good way to give back to the community,” Callahan said. “It also helps us to develop a strong workforce. We have a vested interest in making sure students come out of school well trained.”

Split into three teams, the seniors took up the challenge of designing shelters to withstand wind speeds of 160, 200, and 250 miles per hour. Over the course of a year, the teams completed everything from comparing structural framing and foundation systems to developing a construction cost estimate and schedule.

The final designs contained buildings that could accommodate up to 894 people during a tornado with bathrooms, a kitchen, a training room, and a computer server room.

The cost of the buildings rose with wind speed protection. The building that protected against wind speeds up to 160 miles per hour would cost approximately $2.7 million and take 165 working days to build. The building that protects against 200 mile-per-hour wind speeds costs around $2.76 million and takes 261 days to build. Finally, the building that protects against 250 mile-per-hour wind speeds costs around $3.2 million and takes 267 days to complete.

The project won first place in the engineering/technology division of the UA Little Rock Student Research and Creative Works Expo and is being submitted for other contests.

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