Oklahoma City School Board members voiced their support Monday night for a policy to add safe rooms to every school in the state's largest district. The panel then voted to reject bids for gym construction at Nichols Hills Elementary in favor of new bids for a combination gym and safe room.
“It's a timely issue,” board Chairwoman Lynne Hardin said during the board's regular meeting. “We on the board are looking at this seriously.”
Interim Superintendent Dave Lopez recommended that the board develop a safe room policy after hearing from concerned parents and Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, a safe room advocate who is pushing for a bond issue to build the shelters statewide.
“I'm grateful to the board for making a commitment to put safe rooms in all Oklahoma City Schools,” said Marianne Bacharach, the parent of two children who attend Nichols Hills Elementary.
Neither Bacharach nor fellow parent Kathleen Ram, both of whom addressed the board, seemed to mind that gym construction at the Nichols Hills school would be delayed again — this time by as much as a year — to begin building a gym/safe room.
Oklahoma City Public Schools, with 84 schools and 45,000 students, already is considering safe rooms with new gym construction at up to 25 elementary schools, including Nichols Hills Elementary.
Board member Justin Ellis, whose district includes Nichols Hills Elementary, recommended scrapping the existing construction proposals in favor of sending the new project out to bid.
“I think it is our responsibility … to act on it and not just talk about it,” Ellis said.
Adding safe rooms to gym construction is expected to cost the district an additional 20 to 30 percent, officials said, adding that MAPS for KIDS money from the 2007 bond issue is expected to cover construction of the planned projects.
Lopez, though, said money to fund construction of safe rooms at remaining schools will require additional funding from a bond issue combined with assistance from FEMA and other sources.
School officials across the state are considering whether to incorporate safe rooms into new gym and classroom construction after the May 20 EF5 tornado that killed 24 people, including seven third-graders in their school's hallway.
Last month, Dorman announced a statewide initiative petition drive, with the goal of asking voters to approve $500 million for school storm shelters and enhanced security.
In other school board news: The Oklahoma City Public Schools board voted Monday night to appoint former Superintendent Karl Springer to serve on the Maps for Kids trust board. The Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area Public School Trust is the governing body responsible for school sales tax funds and management of the construction projects. Springer retired Aug. 30 after five years as superintendent of the state's largest school district.