New downtown OKC elementary to add tornado shelter

OKLAHOMA CITY - The John W. Rex Charter Elementary School board has voted to add a tornado shelter to the existing plan.

The ground-breaking at John Rex Elementary was originally scheduled for the week of May 20, 2013.

The school delayed the start of construction after the tornado hit Moore and killed seven school children at Plaza Towers Elementary School.

John W. Rex Charter Elementary was designed and built without a safe room plan.

Today construction is well underway; Pre-K through second grade students will be walking the halls in the fall.

There is a new push to add a safe room at John Rex.

John T Rex Elementary School MapThe board is now considering using a portion of the south school yard to build a safe room to keep students and staff safe.

The board has considered an above-ground safe room option for approximately $550,000 and a below-ground shelter for about 40 percent more, $811,000.

TAP Architecture President John Ward prepared estimates for the board meeting Thursday morning. The below-grade option is a 4,269 square-feet space. The above-grade safe room would be 2,910 square-feet. Both options could hold 540 people.

The shelter will be paid for with a combination of grants and private donations. The board has secured about one-third of the funding. They have applied for a grant through the “Shelter Oklahoma Schools” organization. Also, Grant Humphrey’s non-profit Quality Schools Foundation has pledged funding. Just announced, The Oklahoma City Community Foundation has authorized $100,000 to John Rex Charter for construction of a safe room.

“The charter school board decided that they wanted to actually donate the money come up with the money to actually build a safe room.” said David Todd.

John Rex is Oklahoma City’s first downtown elementary; a tuition-free charter school built and run by the 17-member John Rex board.

Head of School, Joe Pierce fully supports the safe room proposal.

“I’m glad our board has the foresight to say lets slow this down a little bit and say let’s be very thoughtful about this and let’s do a really good safe room for our kids.” said Pierce. “We want to do this right. We want to do this thoughtfully with intentionality so that our kids are safe and that our parents know that their kids are safe in their school.”

Thursday, the John Rex board met with TAP Architecture President John Ward to talk through both options.

“The above grade solution is a lot easier.” said Ward. “It’s potentially a lot less time to build.”

There wasn’t much support for the underground option because of flooding and ventilation concerns, plus the cost.

The above-ground safe room measure passed unanimously.

Construction will start in the next few months. The safe room will not be complete by the start of school. It may be finished for the campus by storm season 2015.

Click here for more information about John Rex Charter Elementary School