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Blanchard considers sales tax for school safe rooms

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BLANCHARD, Okla. -- Blanchard is like a lot of Oklahoma towns; desperate for a safe place for their children and puzzled about how to pay for it.

If tornado alley was a highway, Blanchard would be the center line.

The community sits just southwest of the metro, and it is the breeding ground for superstorms.

There are just a few places to be safe when an EF-4 or EF-5 drops out of the clouds, and in Blanchard some of the students are protected, some are not.

That reality that weighs heavy on Superintendent of Schools Dr Jim Beckham.

blanchard msDr. Beckham wants to build a saferoom at the one school building that is unprotected, the middle school.

"Everything that's been going on the past couple of years with the severe storms. That one site, it's basically a sitting duck. Just like a lot of schools, like the Moore schools that were hit. We hope to fix that situation." Beckham said.

There are four schools in the Blanchard district:

  • The brand new high school has a saferoom area for students.
  • The elementary school was designed with saferoom classrooms.
  • The intermediate school is built partially underground and offers tornado protection for students.
  • The middle school has no safe place for the 6th, 7th and 8th grade student population.

"We need saferoom space. We need saferooms at our middle school. We need something now. We need to start on something now." Beckham said.

A bond issue is not an option for Blanchard. They're bonded out through 2019 because of that brand new $29 million dollar high school.

The superintendent has decided to ask the town to pass a sales tax; a portion of a penny to fund education, specifically saferooms for the middle school.

The school board has asked the city council to approve a city-wide vote to let citizens decide if they want to pay for a saferoom for the middle school.

"I think this is the only way we can get it done. We don't have the funding otherwise. Oklahoma is last in the nation for funding education. We don't have an extra $900,000 that we could build appropriate saferoom space at the middle school. We just don't. Money doesn't appear out of nowhere," Beckham said.

If the voters approve the measure, sales taxes in Blanchard will go up 3/4 of a penny, generating an additional $350,000 a year.

The district will use the money to build a saferoom for the middle school.

Blanchard City Manager Robert Floyd said the council is considering the proposal.

They've asked for specifics from the school board. they want details in writing about how the money will be used.

"I think anytime you take an issue to the vote of the people that it's specific and it's for infrastructure, I think it has a strong chance of passing." Floyd said.

A local architect has already drawn up some plans for an addition to the middle school to add classroom space, reinforced to double as a saferoom so 100 percent of the students in Blanchard are protected from the worst case scenario.

If the Blanchard City Council allows the measure to a community vote, it could pass with a simple majority, 50 percent plus one.

A typical bond issue vote must pass by a supermajority, two-thirds of votes.

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