Last month, a proposal to fund school shelter construction using property taxes passed a State House committee. It was the only shelter bill the House of Representatives heard, and it’s supported by Governor Mary Fallin.
This week, lawmakers may vote to put it on the November ballot.
When the school shelter advocacy group Take Shelter Oklahoma formed several months ago, its goal was simple: to obtain enough signatures to get a $500 million bond issue on the ballot and use that money to build safe rooms in schools to protect kids from tornadoes.
Detailed in a soon-to-be-released report for the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Structural Engineering Institute, an analysis of the debris of the Briarwood Elementary School showed that several of the building’s steel roof beams were not attached to the walls, many of Briarwood’s cinder-block walls were not properly reinforced with steel rebar and large portions of the walls were not backfilled with concrete.
When the storm came, seven students in the Plaza Towers third-grade center sheltered in the hall. At Briarwood, the students and teachers thought the school building would protect them. Then the tornado hit, and the schools fell. Instead of offering protection on May 20, 2013, Plaza Towers became a deathtrap, Briarwood a pile of rubble.
The death of seven students in the tornado that hit Moore’s Plaza Towers Elementary School last May has ignited an ongoing debate about storm shelters and school safety. State lawmakers and advocacy groups are calling for better school construction to protect kids from future storms, and some people are now also raising questions about whether they should simply keep their kids home when severe weather is in the forecast.
A proposal supported by Gov. Mary Fallin to help local school districts pay for safety upgrades like storm shelters and safe rooms has cleared a House committee.
The House Appropriations and Budget Committee on Wednesday voted 18-5 for the measure, despite opposition from the mother of one of seven children killed when a tornado struck a Moore elementary school in May.
The bill calls for a statewide vote for a constitutional amendment that would allow every school district to pursue a one-time increase in bonding capacity for safety upgrades.
When Danni Legg entered the Governor’s office last week, she was looking for answers.
“If she would just have given the records when asked, we wouldn't have this day,” Legg said.
Her son Christopher died when a tornado tore through Moore’s Plaza Towers Elementary School last May. Along with fellow mom Mikki Davis from the group “Take Shelter Oklahoma,” Legg has now filed suit against Governor Fallin.
Ever since a series of deadly tornadoes rattled the state in May, destroying two elementary schools, the idea of building safe rooms has become much more prominent. After all, according to one study released shortly after the storms, more than 60% of Oklahoma’s schools have no shelter at all. Now the Department of Emergency Management is taking steps to fix that.
In the eight months since a series of severe storms battered the state, much of the recovery has been focused on people repairing their homes and putting their lives back together. But the tornados also displaced and injured hundreds of wild animals, and one organization took steps to help those animals even after it was hit by a storm itself.
In the days and weeks following the May 20 tornado, an estimated 850 pets were lost and shuffled between individuals’ homes, triage clinics and shelters. Most of them were eventually reunited with their owners, but eight months later, nearly a third have been adopted by new families, since their original owners were never able to be found.