Oklahoma School Says Its Buildings Are Tornado Proof
GERONIMO, Oklahoma - It's a spot in the road off I-44 just south of Lawton. If you blink, you might miss it. But the unusual dome shape buildings will catch your attention. They may look funny, but their design just might save lives during a tornado.
Those strange looking structures are actually Geronimo's high school and junior high campus. Monolithic Domes. Five connected pods as they call them, built to withstand an EF-5 tornado.
School board member Michael Johnson took us on a tour. What makes the curved roof safer than a traditional square building? Johnson compared it to a basketball.
"It has no real sharp edges for the wind to push on," Johnson said. "It deflects a lot of mother nature. Oklahoma's wind. And it's entirely made of concrete."
Concrete walls, floors and even that strange round roof.
"It was much like a deflated balloon at a carnival with the little squirt gun," Johnson describes it. "They built a big fan in one of the doors and just pumped that trampoline up. Then they came in and they sprayed insulation and then they sprayed concrete layer after layer after layer for weeks."
Four years since moving in, students and teachers have no fear when the tornado sirens sound.
"We basically close the doors and tell them to stay in the pod and carry on as usual," Johnson said.
Most schools don't have that luxury right now and adding a storm shelter to an existing school is extremely expensive, but weather experts say we shouldn't worry.
NOAA Research Meteorologist Dr. Harold Brooks said schools are fairly safe places to be for our kids. He said just 13 children have died at school during a tornado in Oklahoma history, including the seven from Plaza Towers.
"There have probably been more people killed going to and from school than there have been tornadoes," Dr. Brooks said. "So even though it's a terrible thing to happen, it's not that big of a threat."
For the 150 junior high and high school students at Geronimo, it's a risk they're glad they don't have to take.
Student Carly Johnson said, "It feels great because you can just think, hey, I can stay in class. There's no windows I have to worry about and there's no panic."
Doctor Brooks agrees monolithic domes are a safe option for schools. They're also cheaper than most new construction. Johnson said the Geronimo domes were about $100/square foot, paid with a school bond. Other school districts around the state have built multipurpose monolithic buildings, a potential option for larger districts. Geronimo is the only district made of all domes. It also serves as the town's public shelter.