Edmond Schools plan for tornado shelters in every school

Posted on: 9:37 am, February 11, 2014, by , updated on: 11:40am, February 11, 2014

EDMOND, Okla. – Administrators at Edmond Public Schools are working on a plan to ensure every student has a tornado shelter in their school building.

In Edmond Schools, the state’s fourth largest school district, students are luckier than most.

There are eight schools with FEMA-rated tornado protection; that means there is a safe place at about one-third of the district’s properties.

The newest Edmond school building, Heritage Elementary, is being constructed on the north end of the district, near Sorghum Mill and Kelly.

Heritage is being built with saferooms.

Atlas General Contractors C.O.O. Matthew Knight says shelters are a regular part of the discussion in new school construction for districts which can afford it.

“It seems like the district’s that have had the financial capacity to include them have been doing them for some time. The other ones, honestly, it’s one of the things to get cut.” said Knight.

Heritage was designed with six classroom saferooms, one for each wing in the building.

The saferooms are a $40,000 upgrade, each. Four are completed now. There are six saferooms in the finished plan.

In Edmond, progress has been slow and steady.

The district started incorporating saferooms into new school construction back in 1990.

“Since 1990 in Edmond every school has been built with saferooms.” said Associate Superintendent Bret Towne.

While Towne feels proud of the district’s policy to consider saferoom construction in new schools, administrators and the school board have already started working toward a solution for the 18 schools in the district without.

“Now we’re looking at all of our existing schools as part of a school board goal to do a study on what our needs would be to put saferooms or sheltered areas at every school.” Towne said.

The study will come first, then construction.

Many hope to have a safe place at every school for every student in the next five years.

“It’s a board goal for this year to study. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re looking at every school individually. What will it take? Is there a space in the building right now? Will we have to add? And then, what’s the cost going to be?” Towne said.

There are more than 20,000 students enrolled in Edmond Public Schools.

It is too hard and too dangerous, experts say, to send students home when tornado sirens sound.

In Edmond, like in other large Oklahoma communities, they shelter in place.

This district is working to guarantee every student, staff and support worker has a safe place to shelter from a large tornado if it should strike.

Edmond Public Schools has never applied for FEMA funding for saferoom construction.

According to district administrators, because they build to accommodate population growth, they haven’t had the luxury of being able to wait on a funding source that has no guarantee.

Heritage Elementary will open for the fall semester in 2015.