Tornado Uncovers School Construction Issues

A tornado damage expert inspecting wreckage from this week's North Texas tornadoes said construction problems contributed to some of the structure damage he's found, including at an elementary school.

Forensic engineer Tim Marshall works for insurance companies assessing potential for repair. He is also an NBC 5 storm spotter and damage assessment volunteer with the National Weather Service.

"We've seen quite a variability in the way houses are built. It really starts at the critical connection where the walls are anchored down into the foundation. You need to have it bolted," he said.

Mitchell said he has found many examples where walls were not properly fastened and one of the buildings is Donald Shields Elementary School in Glenn Heights.

The Red Oak Independent School District building was constructed in 2008.

After the tornado, Marshall said he found collapsed walls that were not properly fastened in the first place to the floor and to other walls.

He took pictures of the nails that were used to hold the bottom of a wall to the concrete floor.

"Certainly you don't want walls built that way," Marshall said. "And you don't want them to fall over at what I would call a very near-code wind speed. That is not what's supposed to happen. They're supposed to be bolted properly and anchored properly and they're supposed to be tied into other walls and the roof."

Glenn Heights neighbor Bobby Hopkins found a large sheet of metal outside his bedroom window, which he believes came from the school. Hopkins said it is a blessing the metal did not damage his home.

After hearing what Mitchell discovered about the school construction, Hopkins wants more information.

"Especially at our school where our kids are, as well as our homes, we just have some people that are going to cut corners," Hopkins said. "People should be responsible for that, without a doubt."

Glenn Heights Mayor Leon P. Tate led a noon prayer and tornado damage update meeting Thursday. Tate said he, too, wants to learn more about the school construction in his city.

"That's important, us having standards, and making sure anyone who wants to build in our city – doesn't matter if it's a home or a school – that they build to a high level of standard," Tate said.

The school was one of 122 Glenn Heights structures damaged in the tornado. Most of the damage was minor according the city officials. Thirty-two structures were destroyed.

The Red Oak ISD plans classes for Shields Elementary students in a vacant middle school while repairs to the elementary school are made.

Messages for the Shields Elementary School architects and contractor were not returned Thursday.

Red Oak ISD spokesperson Adi Bryant issued a statement via e-mail:

"Dozens of news stories have circulated regarding the positive outpouring of volunteerism, donations, community and school support in Red Oak ISD in the wake of the tornado that ripped through parts of Ellis County on Saturday. A massive coordinated effort resulted in the salvage of school items and a cosmetic restoration of the new temporary home for Shields Elementary on Live Oak Street. The district looks forward to welcoming the staff and more than 500 students to their new site on Tuesday, January 5. Red Oak ISD will forever be grateful for the community, county and region to our outpouring of support.

"In a recent news article, the construction quality of Shields Elementary on Ovilla Road was called into question along with that of numerous other structures in North Texas. Red Oak ISD takes these statements very seriously as the safety of our students is our number one priority. The district has yet to see any official finding or report that substantiates the contents of the article.

"Upon learning of the statements, Red Oak ISD contacted the school's engineering firm, L.A. Feuss, to inquire about the construction quality. The inspection of the construction quality of the damaged school will take considerable time due to the size of the school and scope of the damage. The district awaits any official report before making decisions or statements about the construction quality rather than the assertions of one individual upon whose opinions the article was based.

"We are confident in the processes that the insurance companies and engineering professionals take after a devastating storm like the tornado that ripped through many structures in Ellis County. While we wait for facts and official findings, our sole focus is on preparing our temporary Shields Elementary School on Live Oak Street for our students to return next week."

The school district also provided the following facts about the school:

  • Donald T. Shields Elementary was built in 2008.
  • The construction company was Ratcliff Constructors.
  • The engineering firm was L.A. Feuss.
  • The architect was Corgan & Associates.
  • The district does not believe that any other facility in the district was constructed by Ratcliff Constructors.
  • Cadence McShane is the construction company for the rebuild of Shields Elementary on Ovilla Road. Cadence
  • McShane also constructed Red Oak High School previously.
  • The district reports no issues with the quality of Shields Elementary on Ovilla Road since it opened in 2008.
  • Shields Elementary was subject to and passed all standard code inspections that applied during its construction.
  • The district has not been contacted by the National Weather Service with any report or confirmation the article represents their official position.
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