The Edmond Sun

October 24, 2013

Bedlam storm shelter challenge kicks off in Edmond

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — OU Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims and elite OSU pass catcher Rashaun Woods have teamed up for a good cause — student safety.

On May 20, storm shelters in public schools became an issue after seven children in Plaza Towers Elementary School were killed by an EF-5 tornado that tracked through the Newcastle, south Oklahoma City and Moore areas.  

Parents of the victims and others began working toward a goal of having twister-proof shelters in every Oklahoma public school.

Thursday afternoon, Sims and Woods appeared at GFS Storm Shelters, 3404 S. Broadway, supporting a petition drive to collect 160,000 signatures by mid-December to get a measure funding school storm shelters on a statewide ballot.

Sims came to Oklahoma from east Texas, where he witnessed severe weather.

“The shelter deal to me is a no-brainer,” Sims said, referencing progress being made on the issue in Alabama, where a powerful twister struck in the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham areas in 2011. “I think the state of Oklahoma should do the same.”

Woods went to high school in the Oklahoma City metro area, in the middle of Tornado Alley. Anything to help keep students safe is good for the state, Woods said.

“Once I heard about what GFS was doing I thought it was a great idea,” he said, noting after he looked at the issue he was onboard immediately. “You have to think about it from a family man or a dad’s perspective.”

College students from OU and OSU fraternities and sororities will be collecting signatures on both campuses, before football games, at Stillwater and Norman high school football games and at a variety of other events and locations.

If Sims’ OU team collects the most signatures, members will be treated to a meal from Billy Sims Barbecue. If Woods’ OSU team wins, they will be treated to a meal from Hideaway Pizza. GFS is donating a shelter to be given away by the winning team.

Mark Nestlen, a member of the Take Shelter Oklahoma steering committee, said the panel believes the students will contribute about 100,000 signatures to the petition drive.

Danni Dunn-Legg, mother of Moore tornado victim Christopher Legg, 9, thanked the college students for their efforts. Parents of victims did not have enough time to make a life-and-death decision about picking up their child from school, she said.

On Sept. 18, Take Shelter Oklahoma filed paperwork with the secretary of state. According to the petition language, the measure would add a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution about selling bonds. Up to $500 million could be available.

Nestlen said the plan does not raises taxes or cut spending. Bond debt would be serviced by the reinstated state franchise tax. Local school districts would retain decision-making authority.

Edmond Public Schools spokeswoman Susan Parks-Schlepp said safely sheltering students is a high priority and the district has direction from the school board to do an analysis of its sheltering capacity and to create safe rooms where the need exists.

Officials have said it could cost about $30 million to add storm shelters to district schools without them. | 341-2121, ext. 108