Engineer team finds serious structural problems at destroyed Moore elementary school
In May engineers picked through the rubble at Briarwood Elementary school, just trying to figure out what they could learn from how buildings react to an EF-5 tornado.
What they found shocked even them.
Dr. Chris Ramseyer is Director of the Fears Structural Engineering Lab at the University of Oklahoma and was part of the team, put together by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The team's final report will be released in the spring, but Ramseyer spoke to Fox 25 about what he saw. He says Briarwood Elementary showed major problems with how it was built.
"Somebody had not understood what load path is and how a structure works," he said about the builders involved.
The rubble at Plaza Towers, where seven children died, was already cleared when he got his assignment, but he says pictures from Plaza Towers showed similar issues to what he saw in person at Briarwood.
He recalls the worst:
"Beams with no anchorage at all on them. To me, nobody puts up a beam without bolting it into place," he said.
Ramseyer says he saw cases of missing concrete, rebar too short to act as support and at times masonry not held together by anything at all.
He says the fact that everyone survived at Briarwood was very lucky.
"I deal in probabilities," he said, "and they got a good roll of the dice."
At word of the findings, parents of the children who died reacted very strongly.
"This all was preventable, this all was preventable," said Danni Legg, who lost her son Christopher.
For them it's another blow nine months after the tornado, almost to the day.
"My son and his six friends were killed and to think that it's because they didn't build a building right that - it just makes me so angry," said Mikki Davis, who lost her son Kyle.
The destroyed elementary schools are under construction with plans for safe rooms inside the new buildings, but parents of the victims say a couple schools with safe rooms is not enough
"I want a shelter in every Oklahoma school," Davis said.
Davis and Legg say the new findings prove the importance of legislation they're currently pushing to get shelters in every school. So far, their bill has not been heard by committee.
In the meantime they want answers for their pain.
And even Ramseyer says he's angry. Overcome with emotion, he left the interview twice.
"I'm an Oklahoman," he said, "and this should not happen here. Nobody - - this should not happen here."
He's calling for new regulations under the premise that project engineers should serve as inspectors for the building throughout different phases. That way they can catch builders who don't have the same knowledge in real time and stop construction, if necessary. A plan, he thinks, that could help make sure no parent goes through what Davis and Legg have.
"I miss my Christopher cause he should be out there," Legg said tearfully, "and he's not and we miss him so."
The full report is expected out in another four to six weeks. Friday the ASCE released the following statement:"The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has not completed its final report regarding the Moore, Okla. EF-5 tornado of May 2013. ASCE requires a peer review of all reports before they are released. The final report is currently scheduled for release later this spring. ASCE is currently unable to confirm any findings or recommendations regarding the Moore, Okla. investigation at this time. The statements in the media expressed by members of the damage assessment team that responded to the Moore, Okla. tornado are their own opinions and are not official statements of ASCE."
Ramseyer says around 10 builders had a hand in different phases of the two elementary schools. According to a Journal Record report, disgraced firm RGDC designed the central building for Briarwood Elementary. The report says the firm was dismantled after problems with the Oklahoma City Jail surfaced, and rebuilt as Triad Design Group.
The report also states the third grade center, where the children died at Plaza Towers, was designed by Barbour and Short Construction of Norman.
Fox 25 reached out to both firms, but did not hear back.
The school district was also not willing to speak about the story.