Many Tulsa Schools Consider Making Safe Rooms Required

Thursday, February 6th 2014, 7:34 pm
By: Emory Bryan

In the same way Columbine prompted changes in school security; the last Moore tornado is changing how schools handle tornado precautions.

There's a drive to compel schools to build safe rooms, and in Tulsa, it could become part of the building code. Even a basement would work as a safe room, but many schools don't have them.

The City Council in Tulsa wants to look into requiring safe rooms for all new school buildings, maybe even requiring them at existing schools.

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Tulsa Public Schools is building more safe places into schools, even without a mandate to do it. When Tulsa Public Schools added on to Robertson Elementary, a basement safe room was built in.

Bob LaBass with Tulsa Public Schools said, "Our goal is whenever we do something, we're going to try and put a hardened space in there."

LaBass said it's easier at small schools with 400 or 500 students, but high schools are a problem. The district considered a safe room big enough for Booker T, but the estimate was $5 million dollars.

Instead, they're focusing on smaller schools, like new safe rooms going into new libraries; one at Mitchell Elementary in north Tulsa, the other at Lindbergh elementary in east Tulsa.

The extra cost of construction is $350,000 per school.

"It used to be a concrete block building basically, reinforced concrete. Now we can put windows in them with two or three inch glass, FEMA approves them," LaBass said.

While Tulsa Public Schools is doing that, the City Council is talking about making it mandatory for new construction.

G.T. Bynum, a Tulsa City Councilor said, "Part of their new construction ought to include rooms like this or equivalencies, and we wanted to get the ball rolling on this as our colleagues down the turnpike have done in Oklahoma City and that's what today's discussion was about."

Dawn Warrick with the Tulsa Planning Department said, "We're going to see very few new schools built, so we would need to determine what's the threshold."

Councilor Skip Steele said he would like to see a requirement for safe rooms at every school, not just in new construction.

Tulsa Public Schools is working on a survey of every school's safest spots to guide their plans for more safe rooms in more schools.

The number one spot they have now is underground, but for some, hallways are still the safest spots. That can work, but Tulsa Public Schools plans more safe spots, with every new construction project.