The Duncan Banner

August 16, 2013

Barrington to lead study on school storm shelters

Dorman hopes efforts will make schools safer

Mike Smith
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN —  Republican state Sen. Don Barrington will lead a legislative study on storm shelters in Oklahoma schools, a move an area House Democrat supports - especially in the wake of this year’s deadly tornado in Moore.

 Barrington, a Lawton resident and chairman of the Senate Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, said his panel will holds its first meeting on the issue Sept. 30.

 “We will be looking at all the avenues dealing with storm shelters in schools,” said Barrington, whose district covers parts of western Duncan and Stephens County, including Empire and Central High.

 “I do think it’s something that we need to address but we have to go about it thoroughly.”

 Democratic Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs, who represents a northern slice of Stephens County, applauds the study and said the House also plans to examine the issue.

 Dorman, moved by the mile-wide, May 20 tornado that killed 25 people in Moore - including seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary School - tried to get lawmakers to act in the waning days of this year’s legislative session.

 He proposed a $500 million bond issue for construction of storm shelters or safe rooms, with $400 million of that for shelters in schools and the rest for multi-family dwellings.

 The Republican-controlled Legislature tapped $45 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to provide tornado relief before lawmakers adjourned in late May, but did not take up broader legislation on shelters.

 Oklahoma does not require that schools have safe rooms or tornado shelters, and the vast majority do not. They can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, and many Republicans - including Gov. Mary Fallin - are reluctant about placing costly mandates on local schools.

 Dorman said a statewide vote would be needed to float the type of bond he is proposing, and it could cost the state about $30 million a year to fund.

 Whether that comes to pass or not, he said he is hopeful the studies in Barrington’s committee and in the House will create momentum for action when lawmakers return for their next regular session in February.

 “This should have happened after the Moore tornadoes over a decade ago and it’s time we took action,” Dorman said. “If we are going to mandate that our kids be in schools, we should provide them with safe and secure facilities.”

 Barrington, a former fire chief in Lawton, said his panel’s study would keep attention on the issue.

 “I always said as fire chief, if you need a new rescue vehicle you shouldn’t wait until the plane crashes,” he said.