MOORE, Okla. (AP) — Students heading back to class next week at the rebuilt Plaza Towers Elementary in Oklahoma will see new fixtures as well as reminders of the resiliency the school and community showed after a tornado killed seven students last year.
Plaza Towers was destroyed by the EF5 tornado on May 20, 2013 in Moore. Officials from the elementary school and Moore Public Schools led a media tour of the new building Tuesday. The price tag of the school was about $12 million, which insurance covered.
“I don’t want to be … a district that is remembered by May 20th,” said Michelle McNear, assistant superintendent for elementary education and instruction for Moore Public Schools. “We want to be remembered as a district and a community as how we worked through it and the way we handled things.”
A memorial dedicated to the seven students who were killed is expected to be completed in the fall. It will include silhouettes of seven children with personal touches such as a soccer ball to represent each child killed. The silhouettes will not have names, but the families will know which one represents their child based on the personal touches, McNear said.
Seven benches outside the school also will represent the children.
Moore Public Schools Superintendent Robert Romines said the memorial “is very symbolic to the students we lost.”
The new brick building includes a designated Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved safe area with four classrooms and a hallway where students can congregate when there’s severe weather. The classrooms are equipped with bathrooms, and the hallway has no windows — setups designed to prevent storm debris from flying and injuring students.
The old Plaza Towers did not have a safe room.
Students also will be welcomed by a large brick wall with a panther on it. Officials were able to salvage the panther wall from the old Plaza Towers and install it into the new building.
Principal Patrick Chase said students chose the name “Paws” for the panther. “It’s probably my favorite feature of the building,” Chase said.
The first day of school is Aug. 19.