MPS Making Progress on Storm SheltersApr 04, 2017
It’s an ambitious goal: storm shelters for every school in the Moore Public School district. In the wake of the deadly 2013 tornado, school officials proposed a $209 million bond that would make the project a reality. Voters overwhelmingly approved by 79% margin in October of 2015.
Now, nearly two years after an EF-5 tornado wreaked deadly havoc on Moore and its residents, the goal of building a storm shelter in each school is right on track, with a bonus: MPS administrators have used the bond issue to strategically address pressing needs in one of the state’s fastest-growing school districts. That’s not an easy task in a district with 35 schools and a handful of administrative and service buildings. Dr. Robert Romines, Moore Public Schools Superintendent, said the executive team began tackling the enormous task before the bond issue had passed.
“First off, there was a lot of conversations about what each site needed,” said Romines. “We looked at the growth of neighborhoods and those issues, and that’s how we determined classroom additions, media centers, gymnasiums, and those types of things.”
SCHOOLS WITH SHELTERS
Realizing they were operating in the current financial climate where educational dollars are very hard to come by, Romines and the MPS team made the decision to focus on the most efficient and effective ways to make every one of those bond issue dollars count. That meant growing on sites the district already owns and where room is available.
“One of the things we determined and discovered early on was that it was more cost effective to build a storm shelter in new construction versus tearing down and retrofitting,” said Romines, “That was another reason why we looked at doing new construction and incorporating storm shelters within those buildings because it was more cost effective.”
Romines said the help provided by various members of the MPS administration was critical in creating a workable plan.
“Michelle NcNear was very instrumental in helping us with the elementary piece,” said Romines. “Brad Fernberg and David Peak were our secondary people, and Brian Fitzgerald helped with the athletic piece, and of course Jeff Horn helped pull all of the plans together for execution.”
The final result: schools are not only getting FEMA-approved storm shelters, they’re also gaining much-needed space for growth.
SCHOOLS WITH CURRENT SHELTER CONSTRUCTION
“We’ve got several elementary schools that are getting media centers right now, which will also be dual-purpose storm shelters,” said Romines. “We’ve got junior highs that are getting new gymnasiums that will also double as storm shelters, so the whole process is going very well.”
The entire project was originally envisioned to take place in three phases, with the final round of storm shelters set to be finished in 2019. Romines said that as of March 2017, that projected date still looks solid.
“We’re on track to finish with a number of the Phase One sites through the spring, summer, and fall,” said Romines, “So hopefully we’ll have Phase One finished by next August and will have already started on Phase Two.”
Romines says that when Phase Two is finished around 70% of the district’s schools will have storm shelters, which will include most of the sites that house students.
“Phase 3 is more of Administrative Service Center and child nutrition,” said Romines. “We want to take care of all the sites where students were first. And so, phase one and phase two, most of those will be actual sites that encompass kids or children or students during the school day.”
SCHOOLS TO BE COMPLETED BY 2019
Once completed, Moore Public Schools will be the first school district to have FEMA-approved storm shelters in every school building. With more than 24,000 students in the district, that’s an important safety feature, especially for parents who are unable to pick their children up from school in the event of a storm warning.
“We will have a place where students can go, and there is somewhat of a peace in knowing that our students have a place to shelter if needed,” said Romines. “I hope we don’t ever have to use it but if we do, we’ve got it, and we’ll be prepared.”
Romines is quick to give credit to the voters and their support of the drive to build the storm shelters.
“I’m very proud of what the district has accomplished and not only the district but the community because without the community’s support we wouldn’t have been able to make this happen,” said Romines.
In various surveys, people indicate that the Moore Public School system plays a significant role in the reason they choose to move to the area. Romines said that he and the MPS staff recognize the role the school district plays and are committed to providing the safest and most effective learning environment possible for students.
“Every single project we’ve put in place helps us provide for our students and staff,” said Romines. “We’ve done our best to use the funds entrusted to us by the community to that end and if anyone ever has any questions about these projects and where the money’s going we have a staff that would be delighted to sit down and visit with anybody.”
Support from the community has been one of the more encouraging things for MPS administrators, especially in the current climate where educational funding faces potentially debilitating shortfalls. Romines said that over the past 18 months the school district has begun to feel the impact of state budget cuts.
“I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I’m not concerned about where that funding is going to come from,” said Romines. “We still have almost a billion dollar shortfall in the budget, so it’s going to be tough. There’s going to be some difficult, tough decisions that have to be made to at the capitol and my hope is that they’ll be able to do that, and obviously that would help us retain the teachers and get good quality teachers here in Moore, Oklahoma.”
In the meantime, work continues across the district to make sure every student, teacher, and school staff member will have a safe place of refuge in the event of a dangerous storm.