Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
An enormous tornado ripped through Moore, Okla., Monday, killing more than 20 people including at least seven children inside an elementary school in the storm’s path. Schools in Scioto County on Tuesday said they’re as prepared as they can be for severe weather.
New Boston Superintendent Mike Staggs said their new Pre-K-through-12 building, which opened in November, is so safe, he would feel more safe there than in his own home. In the event of a tornado, Staggs said, students at New Boston crouch against the walls in the collaboration-spaces between the classrooms. At the center of the building, he said, the students are away from the windows and protected by an 8-inch thick insulated concrete form (ICF) and three-times the required amount of steel rebar.
“The contractor that won the bid for the ICFs has built a lot of these buildings. He built some in Louisiana after Katrina,” Staggs said. “I asked him if this building would withstand Katrina, and he just sort of chuckled…he said this building would withstand an F5 tornado.”
Staggs said students and teachers at New Boston are very prepared for a tornado.
“We train for it every year and our kids know the drill. I’m very confident that our building would withstand just about anything. Not only tornadoes, but earthquakes. I’m very, very comfortable with our building because of the massive structure they’ve built,” Staggs said.
Washington-Nile Superintendent Jeff Stricklett agrees that his school is also prepared for a tornado, but said it would be difficult to prepare for a rare storm the size that hit Oklahoma on Monday.
“I feel like we’d be prepared. We have tornado drills, and staff and students take that very seriously,” he said, “I feel very, very sorry for the Oklahoma community, but they said the tornado was a mile (wide). I don’t what you can do to prepare for a tornado like that.”
Asked if he felt like his buildings would stand up to the storm, Stricklett said it would have to depend on the size and path of the storm.
“I would say normally yes, but what happened (Monday) from what I hear is probably the biggest tornado that has touched down. That area too is prone to tornadoes, and they’ve even said they’ve had nothing like that ever happen,” Stricklett said.
Washington-Nile School participates in four tornado drills every year, he said. Students are taken to a marked safe-zone, away from windows and debris, and crouch down with their hands over their heads. Teachers take attendance to make sure every student is where they should be.
Bloom-Vernon, Valley, and Northwest schools said they’re also as prepared as they can be.
Wheelersburg Superintendent Mark Knapp said the nearby Porter Township Fire Department sounds an alarm for severe weather, and several Wheelersburg teachers are EMA-trained weather spotters, watching the skies for the first sign of possible trouble.
“We practice what we call severe weather. So anytime there is an alarm or a warning given, we become more vigilant,” Knapp said. “We as prepared as we think we can be.”
East High School in Sciotoville is one of the oldest school buildings in Scioto County. Sciotoville Superintendent Rick Bowman said parts of the building are nearly 100 years old. While its advanced age might at first glance seem unsafe, compared to newer facilities in the county, Bowman said it’s actually a good thing. During a severe storm, students at East High School move downstairs to the basement — which was originally built as a fallout shelter to withstand much worse than a storm.
“I think as far as protection, I would feel as secure during a storm in our building, in our safe place, as much as I would in new buildings. The way new buildings are constructed these days, they’re not built like the old ones,” Bowman said. “I think these older buildings…I think there’s probably a lot more concrete and a lot more of those kind of materials in those buildings, just because that’s the way they did things.”
Students at Sciotoville Elementary Academy are in a much different situation, however. Elementary classes are held in modular trailers next to Sciotoville Christian Church. Bowman said students are quickly moved into the church basement across the street at the first sign of a tornado warning.
But even schools know there is only so much you can do against Mother Nature.
“Those folks (in Oklahoma) appeared prepared, but their buildings were no match for the storm. Even though I’m sure there will be some things come up about how people could have done more, because that’s the way we always do things, I think probably we’re going to find that they were well prepared 14 or 15 minutes in advance,” Bowman said.
Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or email@example.com. For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.