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June 21, 2013

Schools think outside the FEMA-funded box when building tornado shelters

NORMAN — For the past 23 years, Edmond Public Schools has added tornado shelters to every new school building project. None of those shelters have been built with Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars.

FEMA funding is great when it’s available, but some FEMA requirements for federally funded shelters add to the cost without contributing to structural safety, school officials and architects said.

“The movement to build safe rooms in Edmond schools began in 1990,” said Dr. David Goin, Edmond Schools superintendent.

Goin served as principal of McKinley Elementary in Norman before moving to Edmond. However, he didn’t start out at Norman.

“I was principal at Plaza Towers (elementary in Moore) between 1982 through 1986,” Goin said.

Edmond has 94 designed storm shelters in 10 school facilities, and an additional nine facilities have underground or partially underground areas that serve as tornado shelters.

“We still have our challenges,” Goin said, noting that schools built before 1990 do not have safe rooms.

Edmond, Norman, Owasso and Piedmont are among Oklahoma schools that have built tornado safe rooms without FEMA funding. There are actually more Oklahoma schools with safe rooms than the governor, the state emergency manager or many people might think.

“When you’re building it into original construction, it does add to the cost,” Goin said. “But it has been something we have viewed as affordable and important.”

Architect Sean Willis with The Stacy Group was part of the team that worked on several Edmond projects as well as Reagan Elementary, 1601 24th Ave. SE in Norman. The Stacy Group also designed safe rooms in Owasso and Piedmont.

“FEMA guidelines are very strict and there are a bunch of extra guidelines you have to get through to get FEMA,” Willis said.

To receive FEMA dollars, plans must include added costs that don’t increase structural safety such as battery backup for lighting and HVAC, Willis said.

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