When the May 20 tornado moved through the Oklahoma City area, Greenvale Elementary School Principal Diane Klein rode out the storm inside her office with about 60 first-graders crammed into the space.
By this time next year, Greenvale will have its own safe room that will comfortably accommodate up to 400 people and be rated to withstand an EF5 tornado. There are about 270 students in the school.
Shelter Oklahoma Schools presented the Western Heights school district with a check for $100,000 on Monday. The nonprofit charity was founded to advance efforts to build storm shelters in every school in the state. The check was presented by Reps. Jon Echols and Mark McBride to Western Heights Superintendent Joe Kitchens.
“This is a terrific feeling,” Klein said. “We practice intruder drills, fire drills, lockdown drills and tornado drills, so to have this adds just an extra level of peace of mind.”
In addition to Klein's office, students and staff sheltered in May in another office and in the teacher's lounge, the most interior sections of the buildings.
Teachers worked to calm the nerves of students.
“The kids were really nervous, and I heard many of my teachers working to comfort them,” Klein said.
“We had a teacher reading a book to them and another singing songs. We have an outstanding staff, and I think once the students see it being built, they will understand that it's real and that it's very important to their safety.”
The shelter will cost about $600,000.
The district also received a $500,000 federal grant obtained with help from the state Education Department.
When Greenvale's shelter is completed, all eight sites in the district will have a dedicated safe room.
The Western Heights district covers from NW 10 and County Line Road to SW 74 and May Avenue. The district has about 4,000 students.
“That's a real relief to the Board of Education and to me, and I know it will be a relief to the community,” Kitchens said.
“I'm impressed with the board's dedication. It's taken about 15 years. It was after the May 3, 1999, storm we looked up and said, ‘Oh my goodness. With this kind of thing and where we live, we have to keep the kids safe.'”
Kitchens said the district will now send the project out for bids.
He hopes to have the project completed by next school year.
The safe room will be attached to the main school building by a vestibule.
Other districts also are working to obtain shelters and could get help in the form of a statewide vote. The Oklahoma Supreme Court is considering whether to give backers of a statewide bond measure for school storm shelters more time to gather signatures.
Supporters did not collect the 160,000 signatures required to put the measure on the ballot, but attorneys for Take Shelter Oklahoma challenged the ballot title rewrite by state Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office.