MOORE — School district officials are set to complete several reconstruction projects and remain in an expansion mode, just more than a year after the May 20, 2013, tornado that destroyed two campuses and took the lives of seven students at one of the schools, Plaza Towers Elementary.
The storm-damaged Central Junior High field house is being rebuilt as part of a renovation of the stadium area. Renovations to the stadium include new grandstands capable of seating 2,000 spectators, a new entrance area and ticket booth and a facility that will house a weight room, locker rooms and coaches’ offices.
Moore Superintendent Robert Romines said the stadium renovations are expected to cost about $1.4 million, with the majority of expenses covered by donations.
Romines said $500,000 was donated by Nike and the Kevin Durant Family Foundation shortly after the tornado, with the desire that it be used toward school athletics. In January, the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City donated $900,000 for the rebuilding of the Central Junior High field house.
Romines said with the donations, the project can be done all at once instead of in phases.
“There’s probably going to be a little bit of extra money that the district is going to have to put in to complete the project and do it right. I don’t think it will be a lot of money on the district side,” he said.
Work on the stadium is scheduled to be complete in August.
“We’ll kick off our junior high sports in September, and so we’re hoping to have that ready for our first junior high football game,” he said.
Another of the storm-damaged areas, the district administration building, also is being renovated, with the majority of repairs covered by insurance and the remaining cost to be paid with Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance. Romines said work on the building is on track, and he expects staff to be moving in between August and September.
Other areas being rebuilt include portions of Highland East Junior High, along with Briarwood Elementary and Plaza Towers Elementary, both of which were destroyed.
New school plans
District leaders are carrying on with plans to build new schools to accommodate continuing growth. New campuses being built are South Lake Elementary, 12627 S Portland Ave., a new junior high at 14141 S Pennsylvania, and a two-story elementary school to be located at SE 34 and Sunnylane Road.
After the new schools are finished, the city will have 25 elementary schools, six junior high schools and three high schools.
School board President Karen Shuey said the response from residents to the school system’s expansion has been positive.
“They’re excited. The new junior high will give us six junior highs that will allow the school district to feed two junior highs into each of our high schools, so there is continuity there. The kids know when they enter junior high what high school they’re going to be going into.”
Shuey said despite the challenges residents have faced in the past, they continue to stay and rebuild, for many of the same reasons the city attracts new residents.
“Well, one thing is even though we continue to grow, we’re still that small-town, hometown feeling where your neighbor looks out for your neighbor,” she said. “A lot of it is the school district. We’re one of the top-ranked districts in the state of Oklahoma, and a lot of people want their kids to go to Moore public schools.”
Enrollment in the school district had increased annually from 2008 to 2013, rising from 21,132 students to 23,085 last year.
The latest enrollment data for the 2013-2014 school year show a decrease of about 200 students, with the total number enrolled in February at 22,899.
Shuey relates the lower numbers to the challenges residents faced after tornado damage.
“I think a lot of it was related to the storm. We had quite a few families that had to move out of the district and couldn’t provide transportation back into the district for their children to attend our schools,” she said.
Shuey expects enrollment to bounce back, citing a similar dip that took place in the district after the May 3, 1999, tornado. As enrollment is ongoing, Shuey could only offer a rough estimate for the 2014-2015 school year, saying she expects about 23,000 students.
She said last time it took about five years for enrollment numbers to normalize, but she anticipates a quicker turnaround after this last tornado.
Initially planned before the 2013 storms, the South Lake Elementary design was changed last year to incorporate a storm shelter similar to the one included in the reconstructed Plaza Towers Elementary. The cost of the shelter was funded by a $500,000 donation from Shelter Oklahoma Schools.
Romines said the nearly $11 million school will be about 65,000 square feet and accommodate about 700 students. Construction is expected to be finished in time for the first day of classes on Aug. 19.
Like South Lake, the new junior high and elementary schools were planned as part of a bond initiative approved by voters in February 2013. The two schools will include storm shelters and are expected to be finished by August 2015.