Ask just about any Lindbergh Elementary School student about their school’s all-new library addition, and they won’t mention the interactive white board on one wall or the enclosed classroom in one corner.
“It’s a storm shelter,” said third-graders Serena Gilstrap and Fertayjia Kendrex, in unison.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for Thursday to celebrate the opening of the east Tulsa elementary school’s new library that doubles as a storm shelter. It is the first of its kind to be completed in Tulsa Public Schools and dozens more like it are planned in a $415 million bond package that will go to voters on March 3.
“We’re basically in a big vault,” Principal Deidre Prevett said, pointing out the bullet-proof glass on the library’s exterior windows and doors and six-inch-thick, reinforced concrete walls and ceiling. “In the past, I had to figure out where I was going to tuck kids away in a storm. Now, everyone fits in here with plenty of room to spare.”
Students and staffers have already completed a couple of drills to ensure everyone is clear on where to go in event of a severe storm.
“This door comes down — it will even block a fire if there is a fire,” said Kendrex, pointing toward a special, roll-down door that hangs above the library’s main entrance.
Outside are the storm shelter’s ratings, which are based on the FEMA construction standards. It is built to withstand wind gusts of up to 250 mph for three seconds and is “missile impact” resistant for objects traveling in any direction between 67-100 mph.
Gilstrap said her mother has even discussed the new library with her.
“She likes knowing that we will be safe in case there is a tornado,” said the 8-year-old.
The project, which also included the renovation of Lindergh’s old library into three new classrooms and a dedicated office for special education teachers, was funded with $1.82 million in 2010 voter-approved bond funds.
The school’s three special education teachers and their students used to have to move around the building to find a quiet spot to do small group work in and now that problem is solved, too, Prevett said.
Bob LaBass, executive director of bond projects at TPS, said in another two years, building codes will require schools to create reinforced storm shelters within school additions. But after the May 20, 2013, tornado that claimed the lives of seven children inside the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, TPS leaders decided not to wait for building code to change.
The school district used savings from other 2010 bond projects to cover the 30 percent cost upgrade for Lindbergh’s library. In the next month, nearby Mitchell Elementary School will debut its similar addition, and ground has been broken on an addition with a storm shelter included at Edison Preparatory School.
Tulsa Public Schools isn’t the only area district anticipating this change in building code. In Broken Arrow’s bond issue approved by voters there on Tuesday, additional funds have been budgeted for all new sites and existing sites where square footage will be added to create hardened areas of refuge.
“New construction provides a unique opportunity to add the latest in storm safety features to our buildings. We also anticipate this to become a requirement for building codes in the near future and wanted to plan accordingly to assure we had budgeted appropriately,” said Shelli Holland-Handy, chief communications officer at Broken Arrow Public Schools.