Did You Know…
This Week in Sapulpa History – Sapulpa Schools Had State’s “First” Fallout Shelter
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
This week in Sapulpa history, it was announced on August 23, 1960 that Sapulpa schools were approved for a fallout shelter, the “first of its kind at a school in Oklahoma.”
Two representatives from the Civil Defense stated, “the only other type of fallout shelter which comes close to the one planned [here] is at Tulsa, beneath Nathan Hale school.” Several other school systems “are presently constructing these shelters, but they are doing so by adding to existing structures.”
Noel Vaughn, Superintendent of Schools, announced that they had received approval of a $249,000* grant from the federal government to build the fallout. The grant also included the building of classrooms and an athletic locker room.
*Note: in 1960, $249,000 is about over $2 million today.
The reason behind the fallout shelter at the school would be used for disasters, such as an atomic bomb attack. The funds originally came in the 1958 funding approved by President Eisenhower for public buildings. “Whereby when a public building, such as a school or hospital is damaged by a disaster, funds for the replacement of the building also will include funds for a shelter.” Earlier that year, a disaster occurred in Sapulpa.
The May 1960 tornadoes tore down Booker T. Washington High School. “Construction of a tri-purpose building [will be] to make up for the floor space which was lost when Booker T. Washington School was hit.”
Vaughn was able to obtain the aid for the town after the devastation of the tornado. Another grant, along with insurance, was obtained for $121,000* for Booker T. Washington High School.
*Note: $121,00 then is roughly $1 million today.
The plans for the new fallout shelter would be to construct it on the northeast side of the new high school, around the new gymnasium. It would be constructed above and below grounds. Above ground, it will include four classrooms. The portion below ground would be the combination fallout shelter and dressing or athletic locker room.
It was further announced that it would be able to hold about 600 students. There would also be a storage room for water, food, and sanitation. It would have thick walls and floors. The entrance would be right off the gymnasium, with a flight of stairs.
“Federal officials estimate that it costs from $6.20 to $7.50 per foot extra to build a fallout shelter. It was also pointed out that another win is planned to accommodate all students and a majority of the residents in the school area.”
It was stated that if a bomb was near, “chances of survival in a fallout shelter depend on the type shelter and closeness to the blast.” Federal officials stated that the type that was planned for Sapulpa “only one out of every 500 persons inside would be a victim of fallout. Without the shelter, radiation exposure would claim all who come in contact with it.”
In order to build the facility, the grant must be used by July the following year.
Through these efforts and the aftermath of the May 1960 tornado, the town realized the need for local public shelters. By the end of October, there was a push for shelters in town.
Although there was no fund drive or true plans, arrangements were made and attempted. “Sapulpa Brick and Tile Co. has agreed to donate the bricks for construction of a demonstration shelter in some public places.” Red-E-Mix Concrete Co. also wished to donate to the event.
Organizations such as Parent-Teachers Association Council and Sapulpa Business and Professional Women’s Club agreed to supervise the furnishing of the shelter. Soon, the mayor and local officials agreed, and began arrangements*.
*Note: it is unknown what became of the public shelters.
By June 1961, the fallout facility at the school was opened and introduced to the public*. By the end of construction, the area above the shelter included four regular classrooms, a darkroom, an art room, and a mechanical drawing room. “The fallout shelter itself, which will double as a wrestling room and locker rooms, is below ground with a 20-inch concrete ceiling and all entrances and exits are lead lined.” It was said to accommodate 650 people for two weeks. It provided emergency power supplies, fresh water, and food.
*Note: most fallout shelters were not used as such by the early 1970s.
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The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.