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February 22, 2014

Report: School design flawed

OKLAHOMA CITY — An upcoming report prepared for an engineering society will say that an elementary school destroyed by a tornado at Moore last spring was poorly designed and could have protected children better if it had been properly reinforced.

Similar construction techniques were used at the Plaza Towers and Briarwood elementary schools, according to a civil engineer who worked on the study. Seven children died when a storm packing winds in excess of 200 mph collapsed the Plaza Towers building May 20. Two dozen students and teachers were injured at Briarwood.

“Odds are, if the schools had been built right, the walls would not have fallen,” civil engineer Chris Ramseyer told The Journal Record. He and other engineeers spoke with the Oklahoma City newspaper about the report, which was prepared for the American Society of Civil Engineers and Structural Engineering Institute.

The engineers’ report, due for release in the spring, is based on Briarwood’s debris. The Plaza Towers site had been cleared prior to the review team’s arrival and Ramseyer studied photographs of that school for The Journal Record newspaper.

The storm struck on the last day of the 2012-13 school year. Two dozen people were killed, including seven Plaza Towers pupils.

According to the report on Briarwood’s damage, the school’s steel roof beams were not attached to the walls, many of its cinder-block walls were not properly reinforced with steel rebar and large portions of the walls were not backfilled with concrete. The substandard steel rebar served as a hinge, letting high winds blow walls over, Ramseyer said.

Construction documents obtained by The Journal Record through an open records request show that Briarwood Elementary’s main building was designed in 1984 by a now-defunct architectural and engineering firm whose founders were disciplined for design flaws in other projects.

Ramseyer, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Oklahoma and a nationally recognized expert on the use of concrete, said debris from Briarwood showed the school wasn’t built properly.

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