Hartshorne Public Schools in Okla., Seeks School Bond for Storm Shelters

School officials are seeking passage of a $7.7 million school bond issue for construction of two monolithic domes.

by James Beaty and Parker Perry, McAlester News-Capital, Okla. / October 23, 2015

(TNS) - Hartshorne Public Schools Superintendent Mark Ichord recalls a day when the city’s tornado sirens blared as a violent thunderstorm approached.

“I was going through town and the sirens were going off,” Ichord said. His thoughts immediately flashed to the safety of the students — but they had nowhere to go.

“They didn’t have anything except a concrete block building,” he said. Fortunately, the storm passed, but it left a persistent feeling that Hartshorne students are too vulnerable to extreme weather.

Ichord and other members of the Hartshorne school administration and board of education would like to see that changed — not only for the students, but also for the entire community.

School officials are seeking passage of a $7.7 million school bond issue for construction of two monolithic domes — one at the high school-middle school campus and the other at North Ward Elementary School — which would serve as community storm shelters as well as provide for other school functions.

A public forum to discuss the proposal and answer questions is set for 6 p.m. Monday in the Latham Library at Hartshorne High School, the same site where school board meetings are held, at 520 S. Fifth St.

The school bond election is set for Nov. 10.

Ichord said the bond issue is for $7,770,000 and the money will be used for construction of the two buildings, equipment and other related costs.

The largest would double as an event center for the Hartshorne Middle School and High School. It would be constructed under Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines to serve as a community refuge, according to Ichord. The building features a 150-foot dome in a building covering 28,000 square feet.

At North Ward Elementary School, the building would cover 14,000 square feet and include a 70-foot dome.

Ichord said the domes are constructed in a way to prevent the roofs from being lifted off during a tornado.

The event center at the high school-middle school campus would include a basketball court with retractable seating at the lower levels, according to Ichord. It would seat 1,200 for an event, but in case of a tornado or other emergency, it would hold up to 3,000 people, he said.

Hartshorne Civil Defense, headed by David Mass, will be headquartered in the building during emergencies, according to Ichord.

“He will have his own office and he will be in control of the building,” Ichord said.

The building would also be outfitted with emergency generators in case of power outages — which have occurred in the Hartshorne area during ice storms. It would also include showers and rest rooms.

Plans call for the building to be constructed east of the current high school-middle school campus and south of Taylor Gymnasium, in the area where the school parking lot is currently located at the corner of Fifth Street and Modoc Avenue. Ichord said the school already owns enough property to handle any changes to the parking areas.

In addition to serving as a storm shelter, the building at North Ward Elementary School would also serve as a library and computer laboratory, Ichord said. That, in turn, would free up more space for other uses inside the main building at the school.

Ichord said the dome building at the elementary school could hold up to 1,000 people in a storm. It would be located on the section of the school playground near the south gates entrance to the Butler-Jennings football field.

The Hartshorne School District currently has no bond indebtedness, so any increase to ad valorem property taxes will start at zero, Ichord said. He also noted interest rates are currently at a low level.

“Ten years from now it will cost a lot more,” he said.

As an example of how much the increase would be, Ichord said ad valorem taxes would increase in $27 increments per $100 currently being paid.

For example, someone in the Hartshorne School District currently paying $100 annually in ad valorem property taxes would pay $127, he said. Someone paying $200 would pay $254, and so on. Plans call for the tax to remain in place for 12 years, he said.

Ichord gave a presentation to the Hartshorne City Council on Oct. 13 during the group’s regular meeting.

There, he informed the council about the upcoming public forum and encouraged the community to come out and visit with school officials. The city leaders appeared to be impressed by the measure.

Hartshorne Acting Mayor Carolyn Trueblood said she is in favor of the building.

“This will be a wonderful thing for the community,” Trueblood said after the presentation.

Some city councilors questioned Ichord about the location of the building, but all appeared pleased with the answers that were given. No councilor showed a negative attitude towards the project.

“Thank you so much,” Trueblood said to Ichord and other school officials who attended the meeting.

Anyone who would like to get a better idea of what the dome building planned in Hartshorne will resemble can do so when the Hartshorne Miners play the Okemah Panthers at Okemah on Oct. 30. Okemah already has a monolithic dome constructed for use as a storm shelter.

Ichord said Okemah Public Schools will allow Hartshorne school patrons to look through their building from 5 to 7 p.m. prior to the Oct. 30 game. To get to the building, exit off Interstate 40 at Okemah and take the first right at the Sonic Drive-In, he said.

While there would be some differences, Ichord said the monolithic dome storm shelter building in Okemah is the same size as the one proposed for the Hartshorne High School-Middle School campus.

He is hoping the measure passes, not only for the safety of the students and staff at the school, but for everyone from the surrounding area. It would keep children safe during school hours, and after hours as well, since the building at the high school would be a storm shelter for the entire community, he said.

“We don’t have anything in this town,” Ichord said, referring to the lack of a storm shelter. “It would be something the community could use too.”


©2015 the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.)

Visit the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.) at mcalesternews.com

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