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A tornado safe room under construction in Moore, Oklahoma.

Tornadoes sweeping through parts of the nation and destroying schools are leading district leaders to create “safe rooms” for increased protection.

In May 2013, Moore, Okla., was hit by a tornado that destroyed two elementary schools and killed seven students. Moore Public Schools is rebuilding the schools with four safe rooms designed to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria to provide protection during tornadoes.

With new, smarter building technology to control energy use, school leaders can reduce their carbon footprint and use the money saved to fund projects that may have suffered from budget cuts. U.S. schools spend more on energy than they do “on computers and textbooks combined,” according to a past report by Energy Star.

“As much as 30 percent of a district’s total energy is used inefficiently or unnecessarily,” the report states.

2nd floor hallway
After: The school’s second-floor hallway walls were taped off and painted with a color chosen by students during the School Makeover event.
Before: A classroom
After: The School Makeover participants painted the walls of the entire classroom, hand-painted and installed new locker doors and created art-inspired ceiling tiles.
Before: Gym
After: It took over 100 people to paint all of the high walls of the gymnasium to give it a new look and feel during the School Makeover event.
Before: Outside activity wall
After: Volunteers built a new activity wall in an open space on the playground to encourage outdoor play.
Before: Peace garden
After: The School Makeover team planted different types of flowers and trees, and built a new trellis to update a peace garden that students can visit during lunch or recess.

Students at Frazier International Magnet School of Chicago Public Schools were treated to a fresh-painted gymnasium, classrooms and hallways thanks to an event from School Makeover, a national charity team-building program for corporations and large organizations to make a difference in the communities where they do business. The program is organized by a corporate team-building company called Team Worx.

Cafeteria commons: Students at East Middle School will enjoy breakfast and lunch in their new commons area. The space is flooded with natural light and designed with special touches including booths, high-top tables and outdoor seating.
Glass-paneled library: As students enter the new Irving Elementary, one of the first rooms they see is the light-filled media center and library. The colorful space includes soft-seating areas where students can lounge with a book, quiet workstations, and areas for teachers and students to collaborate on projects.
Open spaces: Instead of hallways, students at the new Irving Elementary enjoy open spaces between their classrooms called “learning parks.” The fourth and fifth graders’ learning park mimics outer space, complete with planets and comets. The learning parks are used for collaborative lessons and activities between classrooms and provide a space for indoor recess when necessary.
Safe rooms: All schools will have safe rooms built to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines. The safe rooms also serve as gymnasiums and are designed to provide shelter for students, staff and residents living within a five-minute walking distance during severe weather.

Joplin, Mo., lost three schools to one of the deadliest tornadoes to strike the nation in May 2011. And nearly three years later, in January, three new schools opened their doors for 1,300 students who had been attending classes at temporary facilities since the disaster.

The 12 new science labs are found on the third floor of the school’s addition, and were designed for flexibility. Fixed cabinetry is restrained to the outer edges, leaving the center open for collaboration. In this physics lab, benches sit at one end of the room while lecture seating with marker surfaces and a smartboard projector are at the other end. Teachers can also mount overhead structures from the ceiling.
New social studies classrooms located on the second floor of the addition have extra space at one end for each teacher to customize based on their needs; for example, as reading areas or group project spaces. Large windows were built to maximize natural light and conserve energy.
The undersized boys’ and girls’ tandem practice gyms at Webster Groves High School were demolished, and replaced with a two-level structure. The first level has multi-purpose rooms for physical education and sports training, cheerleading and other active uses; the second level is a competition gym with bleachers and public access for games. The school expanded into an adjacent service alley to create space for the new structure.
The intersection of hallways in the new third floor science department is roughly the size of a classroom. In this wide area, teachers set up physics demonstrations and experiments in motion, or allow students to lay out large projects for assembly, create posters or test robotics.

The 100-year-old Webster Groves High School, part of the Webster Groves School District in a St. Louis, Mo. suburb, is an important civic landmark. However, its antiquated infrastructure and classrooms ill-equipped for educational media were preventing administrators from fully implementing 21st-century learning models, including blended learning.

The Wake County Public School System opened Rolesville High School last August, a four-story school with 111 teaching spaces to serve 2,262 students at full capacity. It was made possible with a bond issue.

The Puyallup School District in Washington brought a $279 million bond issue before the local community in February, with plans to move 4,000 students out of portable classrooms by constructing and expanding buildings. The measure lost narrowly—55 percent of voters said yes to an issue that needed 60 percent to pass.

 Contractors work to remove gym flooring from an elementary school gymnasium damaged by the storm surge of Superstorm Sandy in Long Beach, N.Y., in November 2012.
Hurricane Sandy wrecked the gym floor at Long Beach High School  on Long Beach, N.Y.
Hurricane Sandy covered the Long Beach Middle School boiler room with water.
The wreckage outside of Scholar’s Academy in Far Rockaway, N.Y., after Sandy hit.
Flood waters rose over a foot inside Scholar’s Academy, and damaged school equipment, including musical instruments.
Ninety iPads were stolen from Scholar’s Academy in the chaos after Sandy, Principal Brian O’Connell says.
The newly renovated Scholar’s Academy auditorium, which was ready for students when the school reopened in January.
The new gym floor at Scholar's Academy.

When Hurricane Sandy hit Long Beach, N.Y., a year ago, floodwaters and strong winds destroyed 95 percent of the houses in the small beach community, and damaged all six public schools. Administrators were left to deal with the unprecedented disaster wreaked by the storm, scrambling to relocate students to temporary schools and continue education under extremely adverse conditions.

The district’s most severely damaged school, West Elementary, reopened for the first time this fall.

The former District of Columbia public school building was constructed in 1950 as a segregated public school
The renovated KIPP DC Douglass Campus houses more than 1,000 charter students in grades preK-12 in a state-of-the-art facility that retains the building’s original character.

The renovated KIPP DC Douglass Campus houses more than 1,000 charter students in grades preK-12 in a state-of-the-art facility that retains the building’s original character.

The former District of Columbia public school building was constructed in 1950 as a segregated public school. To accommodate the wide age range of its students, the 147,000-square-foot building has multiple entrances and walking routes for students.

The administration building at Palm Springs USD’s new technologically advanced Rancho Mirage High School.
The main lobby of the administration building at Rancho Mirage High School.
The Helene Galen Center for the Performing Arts at the new high school, which houses a 600-seat main stage theater.

Students at the new Rancho Mirage High School will be learning in a state-of-the-art performing arts center, cutting-edge science labs, and a complete culinary arts kitchen.

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. completed the $100 million high school in July for Palm Springs USD in southern California. The 332,000-square-foot school, which opens this September, was built on more than 60 acres in the city of Rancho Mirage, and will help alleviate overcrowding in the district’s three other high schools.

Students in the Samuel J. Green Charter School listen to a math lesson. As part of the “portfolio” strategy, dozens of independent local and national organizations operate charter schools in the district.

It’s been a decade since Louisiana established the Recovery School District to take over the lowest-performing schools in the state. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the RSD took over almost all the schools in New Orleans, and in the process restructured the city’s school system on an unprecedented level.

Over the past 10 years, New Orleans schools have gone from being some of the lowest performing in the country to becoming a working laboratory for a bold experiment in restructuring an urban public school system.

Superintendent Maureen Sabolinski went door to door to drum up voter support for a new high school in the Franklin (Mass.) Public Schools. Sabolinski visited local coffee shops to tell community members they also would get to use the new high school gym, walking track, theater and library.

It was a daunting project, seemingly impossible to fund with traditional municipal bonds, says Yonkers (N.Y.) Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio.

In 2010, a building condition study showed that his district needed $480 million for capital improvements to existing school buildings, while new schools needed to be built given an expected enrollment increase of 3,000 by 2020, for a total of $1.2 billion.

Some schools districts are using enrollment losses and building closures as an opportunity to improve student achievement by shifting kids to better schools.

Record lows in student enrollment and staggering budget cuts have forced some of the nation’s largest districts to close schools, a disruption that has often interfered with classroom instruction.

“Many big urban districts have declining enrollment, as there is exodus to the suburbs and charter schools,” says Ron Zimmer, associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, an expert on these trends.

Growing numbers of school districts are entering into public-private partnerships (P3s) to accomplish energy efficiency improvements that will result in cost savings and improved environmental stewardship.

For instance, last year, the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) in California launched its Efficiency Financing Program to fund energy efficiency and water retrofits on local schools. Fifty-four school campuses, two local governments and a nonprofit hospital are currently participating in the program, which is backed by contractually guaranteed cost savings.

Though the Santa Monica-Malibu USD in California does not have a turf field, members of the Malibu Community Alliance filed a lawsuit against the district and city in July 2012 to stop the district from installing permanent 70-foot-tall lights on the football field.