Moore's Plaza Towers rises from storm rubble

The new incarnation of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died in the May 20, 2013, tornado, is set to open this fall.
BY CLIFTON ADCOCK, Oklahoma Watch Published: July 15, 2014
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Moore Public Public Schools Superintendent Robert Romines takes a photo on July 2of Plaza Towers Elementary School under construction in Moore. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman
  PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND
Moore Public Public Schools Superintendent Robert Romines takes a photo on July 2of Plaza Towers Elementary School under construction in Moore. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND

The smell of freshly cut lumber rides a south breeze to the front of the steel and concrete skeleton rising out of red clay. Construction workers and machines move about.

The new incarnation of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died in the May 20, 2013, tornado, is set to open this fall.

And in front stand Mikki Davis and family members, there for a rally calling for the state to help pay for safe rooms in schools. Davis holds a picture of her 8-year-old son Kyle, one of the seven children who died.

“I didn’t want him taken (from life),” Davis said. “I expected to come here (on May 20) and find him looking for Mama to pick him up.”

Returning to the site brings back memories and emotions. But knowing that the new school will have a safe room gives Davis some consolation.

“If my son’s life was taken so that others in the future could be saved in the future, then that makes me proud to be his mom,” Davis said.

The inclusion of safe rooms in the three schools damaged or destroyed in last year’s tornadoes is part of the FEMA disaster aid enabling the district to rebuild. The assistance covers three-fourths of the cost of what is not paid for by insurance and donations.

The work has gone quickly.

The school district expects to open the new Plaza Towers and Briarwood elementary schools in August or September — a quick turnaround for such a large amount of devastation, said Superintendent Robert Romines. Highland East Junior High School, also damaged in the storm, is getting a safe room, as well.

“Looking back, it’s pretty amazing we’ve come this far … I’m shocked and amazed we would be able to do it,” Romines said.

The total value of property loss to the district was around $50 million, Romines said. So far, Moore Public Schools has submitted 63 projects to FEMA for approval. Around 70 percent, or 44, have been approved, reflecting about $4.3 million in FEMA public assistance funds, according to FEMA data.

The district has had the most projects approved and awarded by FEMA, although it is fourth in the amount of dollars received.

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Editor’s note

“Auditing the Storm: Disaster 4117” is a joint investigative series by Oklahoma Watch and KGOU Radio on how federal and state disaster aid is being spent in the wake of the violent tornadoes and storms of spring 2013. KGOU Radio is airing stories on Disaster 4117, with Kate Carlton Greer reporting as part of The Oklahoma Tornado Project. The data team with Investigative Reporters and Editors and Investigative News Network team assisted with the project.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media service that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.

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