Hope Abounds Three Years After the Storm at CV Tech

Christie Green, attendance officer, looks forward to leaving her hallway office at Canadian Valley Technology Center’s temporary Holt Campus in Yukon. Reconstruction is expected to be complete and equipment should be in place for the second semester of next school year.

May 31, 2016

EL RENO – Christie Green had been watching weather reports all day. She was well aware the forecast included a high risk of severe weather in central Oklahoma.

As her workday drew to a close, the severe storm watches changed to warnings. The atmosphere looked unpleasant on an otherwise common and muggy mid-80s day in late May.

Green left work at 5 p.m. with one eye on the road and the other on the angry sky.

Still fresh on her mind was the deadly tornado 11 days earlier in neighboring Cleveland County. That storm leveled homes and businesses, especially in the city of Moore. Seven schoolchildren perished in one building.

Green, 30, of Yukon, got to her parents’ house 10 miles away and crowded into a small underground shelter with nine others, including her young daughter.

Fortunately, no storm made it to Yukon that day.

Green’s workplace, however, was not spared.

Large Tornado near El Reno
Shortly after 6 p.m. on Friday, May 31, 2013, a massive super cell produced the largest ever-recorded tornado at 2.6 miles in width. Wind speeds measured 295 mph as the storm crossed Highway 81 in south El Reno.

The tornado tracked eastward, as many do until it made an unusual turn northward. The large twin-funnel twister crossed Interstate 40 and made a beeline for Canadian Valley Technology Center’s El Reno Campus.

Estimates revealed EF3 damage at the school. Nevertheless, the campus was destroyed. One of the nine buildings was flattened. Complete interior concrete block walls were sucked out of the middle of others, though oddly, most roofs remained.

A single-engine airplane used in the Aviation Maintenance program was pulled through a hangar door. Across campus, a 120-foot wind turbine blade used for training purposes snapped loose from steel cables bolted onto large concrete supports. The six-ton blade was carried nearly 100 feet to its final resting place on top of a building.

An anchored fireplug was sucked out of the ground and landed on the north side lawn of the main building.

Nearly two dozen vehicles were strewn across the 60-acre campus site. A van was flipped upside down and landed on top of a pickup. All were totaled.

Now for the good news. The 15 people still on campus – many of whom were finishing up a week-long class – took shelter in a below-ground classroom were all safe. Just scared and a left feeling helpless. It was their cars parked outside. 

Green, then a Student Services secretary, was shocked when she saw the damage the next day.

“My first thought was I couldn’t believe I had just left an hour before it hit,” she said. “I remember lots of questions came to mind. I was wondering what was going to happen next and would I still have a job? Where will we put everyone in the mean time?”

School administrators answered those questions as quickly as possible with a mandatory Monday morning meeting for all staff. Green said it was only then that she knew for sure that everything was going to be OK. 

In the days and weeks that followed, staff became somewhat nomadic.

Initially, they were relocated to the nearby Dr. Earl Cowan Campus in south Yukon.

Former Car Dealership
This was until the former John Holt Chevrolet dealership could be readied for occupancy in west Yukon. The three-story building had been vacant for several years. Several walls had to be erected in order to make way for 14 full-time training programs. Extensive maintenance and upgrades were necessary with the decades-old boiler/chiller and electrical system.

Classrooms and shop areas were priorities.

Offices were few. Hallways were more plentiful and provided better options for most staff, including Green.

“The first year here, I would have to wear sunglasses until at least 9 a.m., because the sun was so bright it would blind me while I worked,” she said. “The floor platform shakes all the time. But after awhile you get used to it.”

Filing cabinets divide work areas.

Chain-link fences divide shop areas.

“You can see and hear everything that goes on around you,” Green said.

Rebuild in Full Swing
Reconstruction continues at the El Reno Campus just seven miles west. Painting is in full swing in many parts of the main building. Ceiling grids will go in soon, followed by parking lots and access roads. All work is expected to be finished by late fall.

The school should re-open in January 2017.

“I am very excited to get back to El Reno,” Green said. “That is home. My space will be nice. I will office outside the campus director’s office.

“I will have a nice semi-private space where I can visit with students and complete my everyday work,” which includes holding students accountable for attendance.

CV Tech opened in 1970 as a publicly funded school providing full-time career training to high school and adult students. The school also offers short-term courses in the day and evening and provides affordable customized industry training for area businesses.

New features awaiting students at the rebuilt site include an enlarged commons area with an area of elevated seating. Student services will be housed together in a one-stop shop concept.

A central courtyard will provide outdoor classroom space and outside eating areas. A covered walkway will provide quick access to and from shop programs, which are spread through two wings on the north end of the building.

Better still, the campus will include five safe rooms built to FEMA standards – just in case the clouds grow dark again in eastern Canadian County. Despair has given way to hope for Green, her co-workers and potentially generations of students who will use the facilities.