Shidler elementary
Students at Shidler Elementary School in south Oklahoma City have been affected by structural issues in the building since Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (Bennett Brinkman)

With the passage of Oklahoma City Public Schools’ historic bond package in November, Shidler Elementary School in south OKC will be combined with nearby Adelaide Lee Elementary School to form a new school. However, problems at Shidler, 1415 S. Byers Ave., have demanded more immediate attention, as “structural issues” have rendered a 10-year-old new addition to the building unusable.

Students, faculty and staff have been spending much of their instructional time since November outside of their classrooms after a Shidler official discovered issues with the building that made it potentially unsafe. Instead, students and staff either have been occupying parts of the building that stand alone or have been transported to Adelaide Lee, seven minutes southwest of Shidler at Southwest 29th Street and Walker Avenue.

“Over the holiday break, I discovered a potential building issue and immediately reported the issue to the district,” the official wrote in a Nov. 27 post on the school’s Facebook page. “District crews and a third party engineering firm completed an initial assessment and out of an abundance of caution, we’ve made the decision to close a portion of our school until a complete assessment of this area can be conducted.”

OKCPS moved Shidler students to online learning for the first two weeks of the 2023’s spring semester. But on Monday, all grades except pre-K students headed back to in-person classes at Adelaide Lee, where they will remain for the rest of the semester while officials determine the extent of the problems at Shidler.

“This type of transition or shift is difficult and we are grateful to our families, students and staff for their patience, understanding and flexibility. As always, the safety of OKCPS students and staff is our top priority,” OKCPS manager of media relations Crystal Raymond said in an email.

Two years of monitoring

Raymond indicated OKCPS officials already had reason to be concerned about the Shidler Elementary School building, which sits at the intersection of Southeast 15th street and Central Avenue just south of the Oklahoma River.

“Portions of Shidler have been monitored for structural issues for just under two years,” Raymond said. “There were no indications that the building may be unsafe until recently. (…) The district monitors all buildings for structural changes and has plans in place, such as the one being utilized now, to keep students and staff safe.”

Shidler, a school that serves pre-K through fourth-grade students, completed a $3.8 million renovation in 2012 as part of the MAPS for Kids program. Shidler is also a Title I school, meaning children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of its enrollment.

“Over the last two weeks I have been so proud of our students, their teachers and our families,” Shidler Principal Armando Ayala said in a message that went out to parents Jan. 19. “Everyone has been so flexible, patient and understanding as we transition our instructional plans.”

As part of MAPS for Kids, a program for Oklahoma City schools funded by a sales tax 2001 sales tax vote, renovations to Shidler included structural repairs to the roof and walls, as well as a new addition totaling more than 15,000 square feet.

At their meeting Monday evening, OKCPS board members approved engineering service agreements with two firms, KFC and Terracon, for a “structural investigation” and a “structural survey,” respectively, of the Shidler building.

Attachments to the meeting agenda containing the quotes and letters explaining what the firms will survey indicate the damage is concentrated in the decade-old new addition to Shidler.

The letters identify the scope of the work for both projects as investigating the settling of “the new addition to Shidler Elementary School.”

According to the quotes, the total cost of the two surveys will be $33,480. The funding will come from the district’s 2016 bond package.

Board member Meg McElhaney, whose district includes Shidler and Adelaide Lee, said OKCPS has been working to support Shidler students and teachers as they handle the situation.

“From my perspective, the most important thing is making sure that students and teachers are taken care of, and that’s what the district has been doing,” McElhaney said. “Obviously, it’s unfortunate, but we’ve been working really closely with families and everybody to make sure that lines of communication are open and everybody knows the plan.”

A two-month problem

According to posts on the school’s Facebook page, the Shidler community has been dealing with the issues since Thanksgiving.

Following the Nov. 27 post on the Shidler Elementary School Facebook page, a combination of virtual learning, instruction at Adelaide Lee and movement to other parts of the building took students to winter break. When students came back for the spring semester, they continued a hybrid plan of pre-K, kindergarten and first-grade students at Shidler and second, third and fourth graders at Adelaide Lee. Because officials deemed the Shidler cafeteria unsafe, the district prepared meals offsite and brought them to students each day.

Meanwhile, engineers have been evaluating the building to discover the extent of the damage. District officials have declined to give details on exactly what structural issues are affecting the building.

It is unclear how, or if, the building’s structural issues will affect Shidler’s fate. Raymond declined to discuss details of the Shidler and Adelaide Lee merger or what would happen to the Shidler building afterward. OKCPS closed or leased out more than a dozen district school buildings as part of its Pathway to Greatness overhaul approved in March 2019. But in November 2022, district leaders asked and received approval from voters for a nearly $1 billion bond package to renovate and build new schools.

As a school where just 2 percent of students scored “proficient” or higher at state testing for their grade level, Shidler’s plight has mostly flown under the radar. OKCPS board members approved the structural investigation and survey without comment, and the three-hour meeting’s discussion Monday night was filled with more exciting topics, such as the bond package and social-emotional learning.

Some parts of Monday’s meeting did touch on adjacent building-related topics, however.

Four community members who spoke to the board in the public comments section of the meeting used their time to implore members to save OKCPS’ historic buildings, such as Capitol Hill High School and Classen School of Advanced Studies at Northeast.

Capitol Hill High School, which features a historic domed gymnasium, is slated for complete demolition after the completion of a new school building funded by November’s bond package.