INVESTIGATION: Another saferoom option for Nichols Hills Elem

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OKLAHOMA CITY --- Oklahoma City Public Schools said this week that safe rooms were a priority for new construction projects in the district.

A recent NewsChannel 4 investigation showed the district seems to be continuing to build without consideration for a saferoom.

For several years, Oklahoma City Public Schools has been building free-standing elementary gymnasiums in the district.

The projects are paid for with a bond issue passed in 2007.

So far, all of them have been built without saferooms.

For 17 elementary schools it is too late to incorporate a safe room into the project.

But for Nichols Hills Elementary it is not.

After years and years of waiting the Nichols Hills project is finally moving forward.

Tuesday construction bids were opened.

Seven construction companies bid the project.

The lowest and best bid will be chosen with the recommendation of the architect, then approved by the school board.

The school board publically expressed interest in prioritizing safe rooms in new construction during the regularly scheduled meeting last week.

"We're all cognizant to the fact that we have an opportunity with this construction perhaps even if it's delayed a bit to do something." said board Chairperson Lynne Hardin.

Despite the school board's sentiment, the district has already decided not to delay the Nichols Hills project to have the entire gym designed as a safe room.

However, NewsChannel four is now learning there may be another option for Nichols Hills.

David Hornbeek is the architect on the Nichols Hills project, and he says it's not too late for his firm to design a safe room option inside the facility.

"There's no safe room in the design right now. But that doesn't mean that even during construction we couldn't come back and make a modification using the low bidder that we have and ask him to give us a price to provide a safe room and we could still put a safe room in this gymnasium." Hornbeek said after the bid opening Tuesday.

The architect is able to make adjustments to the project costing up to 10-percent of the budget even after they've accepted a bid.

For example, if the low bid was $2 million, the district has $200,000 they could conceivably use to add saferoom areas inside the gym.

"The concern is so great that you cannot at least discuss this. I think it will be discussed at length and the decision will be made with a lot of deliberation, and I don't know what the outcome will be, but we'll be able to respond whatever they decide." Hornbeek said.

Another interesting twist this week, because of the NewsChannel 4 investigation into the gymnasium construction projects in the Oklahoma City Public School District, State Representative Joe Dorman has changed the language of his state constitutional amendment proposal.

"This will hopefully encourage the Oklahoma City Public School District to not only get those facilities completed but also include shelters in there since this bond issue would help cover the cost." Dorman said.

If passed the measure would allow Oklahoma City and Tulsa Public School Districts to apply for state funding for any safe room project funded after May 2007 and for which construction has not yet begun.

If passed, Oklahoma City Public Schools will be able to take advantage of that proposed $500 million in state funding for upcoming gymnasium projects.

Here's more information about the statewide saferoom initiative petition.

NewsChannel 4 contacted Oklahoma City Public Schools for a comment for this story. The district did not respond to our request.

As of the close of business on Tuesday, the lowest bid for the Nichols Hills Elementary project had not yet been identified.

There was a clerical, human error on the lowest bid. The city is currently working through that legal issue.

In the meantime, Oklahoma City Public Schools still has time to reject the bids in order to re-bid the project with a safe room in the plan.

We will continue to follow the construction project.

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