StateImpact Oklahoma
2:17 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

List Of Schools Unwilling To Wait For Government Action on Tornado Shelters Grows

fence in Moore, Oklahoma with "Hope" written in flowers
Credit Wesley Fryer / Flickr Creative Commons

It’s only been little more than three months since an EF5 tornado ripped through Moore, Okla., and devastated two schools. And already, the state’s public schools are responding.

StateImpact and partner station KGOU have reported on a few school districts that are moving ahead with safe room construction, including Alex and Woodward.

Now there’s a trend taking shape toward building safe rooms, and as The Oklahoman’s Tim Willert reports, schools aren’t waiting for help from the state or federal governments:

Oklahoma City Public Schools, the state’s largest district with 84 schools and 45,000 students, is considering safe rooms with new gym construction at up to 22 elementary schools, officials said.

About six of the gyms are in the early stages of construction. All will be paid for with money remaining from a 2007 bond issue earmarked for new gym construction, according to Jim Burkey, the district’s chief operating officer.

The state government hasn’t made safe rooms at schools a priority, and it didn’t look like it was going to do much more, even after the May tornadoes.

But State Rep. Joe Dorman, R-Rush Springs, is starting an initiative petition that he hopes leads to a statewide vote over whether to amend the constitution to allow a bond issue to pay for safe rooms in schools. But that takes time.

Districts unwilling to wait include Moore, Oakdale, Piedmont, Hennessey, Midwest City, and Mustang, all of which have safe rooms at least tentatively planned or already under construction.

But most of the structures won’t just serve as tornado shelters, which Willert reports is key to schools getting the most bang for their buck.

…schools officials throughout Oklahoma are considering whether to incorporate safe rooms into new gym and classroom construction.

Safe rooms are considered more cost-effective than underground shelters, which require elevators and access for the disabled, and are not used except in emergencies…