MOORE, Okla. – The Moore Public School District has had quite a year. It has been six months since the May 20th tornado, and right now the district has about $100 million in construction going on.
Moore Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Romines has a new montre these days: Anything is possible.
There are other motivational phrases on the walls of his office, but he is daily reminded by two bricks stacked on a bookshelf, one from Briarwood Elementary and one from Plaza Towers Elementary, that indeed anything is possible in Moore.
“May 19th, if you would have asked me, ‘Robert you’re going to have an F5 tornado come through, and it’s going to turn into a grinder over two of your elementaries, and literally just eat through your community from the far west side of your district to the east side.’” Romines said. “if you would have asked me if we’re going to be able to have school in August. I would have had my doubts.”
So much has changed since May 19th.
“May 19th, if someone would have asked me if saferooms important to have at every one of your sites. At that time, I think the belief would have been. No. I think we’re good. Storms come through in the late afternoon or early evening, and we typically have our kids home before those things roll through here. Well, not-so-much anymore.” Romines said.
On the afternoon of May 20th, Romines was in training for his new job as superintendent.
He was with then-superintendent Suzie Pierce when the dry line started firing and they got a call from his daughter’s school principal.
“That’s when we knew our community was going to be hit. Not only our little community but our school district as a whole. It wasn’t going anywhere but it was coming right toward us.” said Romines.
His thoughts were simultaneously focused on two daughters, and the other 23,000 kids in the district.
Several hundred at Plaza Towers and Briarwood students were right in the storm’s path.
“I have always said seven is way too many to lose. But it could have been worse. And I’m still shocked it wasn’t.” said Romines.
Romines took over as superintendent July 1 right as the district made some important decisions about rebuilding.
There are two safe areas in Moore schools already.
Plaza, Briarwood and Highland East Junior High will be rebuilt with safe structures.
Then the district hopes to start work on Pre-K saferoom classroom additions at five elementaries.
Romines would like a saferoom at every building in the Moore Public School District.
There’s no timetable yet. Funding isn’t secured. But, building safer schools is now a priority in Moore.
The saferoom structures the district is building at the damaged elementaries and junior high are primarily funded by FEMA with some additional state funding.
After grants funding, the district only has to pay 13-percent of those structures.
“It’s going to be a process not an event. We’re going to get there. It’s going to take us some time. But we’re going to make best decisions based on best practices and not out of fear and we’re going to do this the right way.” said Romines.”I hope we don’t ever see another F5 again, but I know it’s probably not a matter of if, but when. I just hope it doesn’t happen here in Moore Public Schools, and I hope it doesn’t happen during the school day. I sure hope we don’t sustain loss of life.”
The district is planning now for a memorial at the new Plaza Towers Elementary.
They weren’t able to salvage much from the site, but a construction crew did save one wall, with a mural of the school mascot, a panther.
“One of the kids that was walking by said. ‘That panther. That’s us.’ The outcry was. that we’ve got to save the wall. We’ve got to save the panther.” said Romines.
And so they did.
The panther will be part of the new school, built into the design of that new building just like that terrible day is woven into the fabric of this community.