By M. Scott Carter
MOORE – When the storm came, seven students in the Plaza Towers third-grade center sheltered in the hall. At Briarwood, the students and teachers thought the school building would protect them.
Then the tornado hit, and the schools fell.
Instead of offering protection on May 20, 2013, Plaza Towers became a deathtrap, Briarwood a pile of rubble.
Detailed in a soon-to-be-released report for the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Structural Engineering Institute, an analysis of the debris of the Briarwood Elementary School showed that several of the building’s steel roof beams were not attached to the walls, many of Briarwood’s cinder-block walls were not properly reinforced with steel rebar and large portions of the walls were not backfilled with concrete.
Chris Ramseyer, the civil engineer who studied photographs of the Plaza Towers School, said the photographs showed similar problems and raised serious questions about Plaza Towers’ design and construction quality.
Both Plaza Towers and Briarwood were destroyed when an EF5 tornado struck. Neither school had safe rooms. Seven students were killed at Plaza Towers after walls of the third-grade center, a building next to the main school, collapsed. At Briarwood, at least 24 pupils and teachers were injured when the school’s cinder-block walls fell.
“Odds are, if the schools had been built right, the walls would not have fallen,” Ramseyer said.
In addition, construction documents obtained through an open records request show that Briarwood Elementary was designed by a now-defunct architectural and engineering firm whose founders were disciplined for design flaws in other projects.
Briarwood and RGDC
Briarwood Elementary School, at 14901 S. Hudson Ave., is a small complex comprising a central building, classroom buildings, a multipurpose building and storage buildings.
Construction records show the central building was designed in 1984 by architectural and engineering company RGDC, a once-prominent Oklahoma City firm.