OKCPS Board decides to start from scratch on new Nichols Hills gym

After hearing from parents, members of the Oklahoma City Public Schools' Board of Trustees decided unanimously to start from scratch on plans for the new gym at Nichols Hills Elementary School.

"If you put a students in a gym with out the safe room construction, you put that child at risk," said Jay Mears, an OKCPS Board Member.

Members of the community joined board members in a robust discussion at Monday night's school board meeting on adding safe rooms at OKCPS campuses.

"We have the opportunity to do the right thing for the betterment of Nichols Hills Elementary and the safety of our children," said Kathleen Ram, a parent at Nichols Hills Elementary.

Nichols Hills Elementary became the center of the safety discussion.

"I ask the question, what if it was one of your children who did not make it into that storage closet and were told to get in the hall and put your head in your knees as an EF-5 comes barreling through the school," said Ram, as she addressed the board.

Ram was one of two parents who addressed the board of trustees during the meeting. Both parents support holding off construction for the new gym at Nichols Hills Elementary, and asked board members to consider drafting new plans that include a safe room. They each expressed concern about the school's current safety protocol.

"All 24 of the kids in her class plus the teacher are supposed to fit in the single person bathroom in the teachers' lounge," said Marianne Bacharach, as she described the safety plan for her daughter's class.

Rep. Joe Dorman (D- Rush Springs), who leads the "Take Shelter Oklahoma" initiative also addressed the board.

"We have got to do what we can to make sure those facilities in the future are built correctly where we can have those shelter opportunities in place," said Rep. Dorman.

OKCPS Interim super superintendent, Dave Lopez, says turning Jim's at each school into safe rooms will cost the district 20% more. For Nichols Hills Elementary School, this also means a 6 to 9 month construction delay for the new gym.

"I am not opposed to this as long as we are saying we are going to do this with other schools that have not been built," said Ruth Veales, OKCPS board member.

The district is slated to build 25 new gyms at elementary schools. Board members emphasize safety will be at the forefront, but say safe rooms are just one piece of the puzzle.

"It takes more than just a safe room in a tornado to save a child," said Mears.

District officials say it will take another bond issue to get enough money to build safe rooms at every school.