NORMAN — Private money will save the lives of Oklahoma schoolchildren, state legislators said Thursday at a press conference at the Capitol.
Lawmakers joined forces to create a nonprofit, Shelter Oklahoma Schools, with the mission of building shelters in every Oklahoma school, starting with Moore and other areas where the highest number of tornadoes track.
Apache Corporation, which had already pledged $500,000 to build school shelters, issued a corporate challenge Thursday, offering up to $500,000 in additional matching funds for every dollar donated by other companies and individuals.
“I’m a parent and a grandparent and I’ve never lost a child or a grandchild, but I’m sure the agony is terrible,” Apache CEO G. Steven Farris said.
Working from the same idea of protecting schoolchildren, Norman Chrysler Jeep Dodge started the Plaza Towers Memorial fund with $200,000 seed money. Now the two groups have merged under Shelter Oklahoma Schools.
“This is such an important mission for us,” said John Hunt, of Norman Chysler Jeep Dodge. “Once we learned of the tragedy in Moore, we wanted to help. We thought the best route would be to start a fund to get shelters into schools.”
Moore School Superintendent Susan Pierce said the district is taking proactive steps in the plan for rebuilding Briarwood and Plaza Towers elementary schools. Both schools were destroyed in the May 20 tornado. Another Moore school, Highland East Junior High, was heavily damaged by the EF-5 tornado.
Seven children died at Plaza Towers, killed by falling debris and collapsing walls.
Approximately 94 percent of Oklahoma schools do not have tornado shelters. Gov. Mary Fallin said last week that only 100 of Oklahoma’s 1,752 public schools have storm shelters.
The May 20 tornado killed 24 people and injured at least 100 others in the Moore and Oklahoma City area as it cut a 17-mile long path that started in Newcastle and ended at Lake Stanley Draper. Fourteen miles of that destructive path were through Moore.