An engineering report due this spring will reveal that the elementary schools destroyed last May by a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, was poorly designed against such a natural disaster.
Engineers who prepared the report for the American Society of Civil Engineers and Structural Engineering Institute, stated that the students could have been protected better if the building had been properly reinforced.
The report states that similar construction techniques were used to build Briarwood and Plaza Towers Elementary Schools, which collapsed last May. Seven children died at Plaza Towers when the building collapsed under assault from winds exceeding 200 miles per hour. when the storm with its winds in excess of 200 mph collapsed the Plaza Towers building. Two dozen students and teachers were also injured at Briarwood.
The report is based on the debris from Briarwood which revealed that the school's steel roof beams were not attached to the walls, many of its cinder-block walls were not properly reinforced with steel rebar and large portions of the walls were not backfilled with concrete.
"Odds are, if the schools had been built right, the walls would not have fallen," stated Chris Ramseyer, a civil engineer and associate professor at the University of Oklahoma who is also nationally recognized as an expert on the use of concrete according to M. Scott Carter of the Journal Record.
The substandard steel rebar served as a hinge, letting high winds blow walls over," Ramseyer said. "(At Briarwood) we found one horizontal steel beam that was designed as a support beam for masonry over the entrance to two classrooms. But there was no connection from the beam to the masonry, anywhere. No connection. The beam was just sitting there on the walls. Only gravity held it in place. Obviously, that's not being built to code."
Bill Coulbourne, a Delaware engineer who is the principal author of the report, drew similar conclusions.
"There were places in the building that failed that we should have seen more resistance in the building elements," he said. "There wasn't a lot of steel in any of the masonry walls. There were not very long splices between metal reinforcing bars."
Debris from the Plaza Towers building, which was constructed in 1965, was cleared before the engineering team was allowed to examine it. However with the help of photographs of the debris made available, Ramseyer said the building had similar construction problems as Briarwood's.
Construction documents obtained by The Journal Record and shared by Carter found through an open records request that Briarwood Elementary's main building was designed in 1984 by a now-defunct architectural and engineering firm whose founders were disciplined for design flaws in other projects.
David Adcock, the director of plan review, inspection and permits for Oklahoma City stated that prior to 1984, , building inspectors did not review masonry as they do now.
Parents such as Danni Dunn-Legg, who lost her son Christopher to the storm at Plaza Towers, shared anger and concern at the new revelations.
"If the ceiling and the walls are stacked like a deck of cards and you remove one element, it falls," she told the newspaper.