Keolu Elementary to reopen, could still serve as emergency shelter

Keolu Elementary

The Hawaii State Department of Education says school is back in session Wednesday for students at Keolu Elementary.

Classes were canceled Tuesday after strong winds blew the roofing off the cafeteria Monday.

Officials say approximately 50 first- and second-graders were inside at the time. The cafeteria was evacuated and the rest of the students were served lunch in their classrooms.

No one was hurt, but crews needed an extra day to secure the damaged area and clear the debris. Meal service will be handled in another building while repairs are made to the cafeteria.

The school is listed as one of Oahu’s hurricane evacuation shelters. So is the state concerned that Monday’s gusty winds, which were in the 30-mph range, were able to damage the roof?

“We are constantly re-evaluating and there is a team that’s going out and re-evaluating some shelters,” said Shelly Kunishige with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

DOE officials say the roof of Keolu Elementary’s cafeteria does not have any holes. Only the insulation and top sheeting tore off.

“That layer of insulation along the top sheeting that is part of the roof is all that came off. The structural stuff is all still there. It’s really just a matter of replacing the top sheet,” explained Dann Carlson with the DOE.

“In light of this event, are the shelters on that list still safe for people to evacuate to?” KHON2 asked.

“They’re safe, as far as we know,” Kunishige said. “We are going to continue to go out and do inspections along our cycle for our retrofit projects.”

When pressed for more details, Kunishige said, “I would have to talk to our lead planner about that. They may try to increase the frequency.”

Kunishige said 53 schools are a part the state’s retrofit program, which makes the facilities safer and more secure. Keolu is not on that list right now.

State emergency officials said the last time they inspected the facility was back in 2006, but it was back on the list to be inspected again soon.

Ed Teixeira, former vice director of Hawaii Civil Defense, says it shouldn’t have happened.

“To hear that the roof blew off that building from yesterdays high winds, which I understand may not have been tremendously strong, is pretty surprising to me,” he said. “I think the key is inspection, re-inspection and really planning closely (to make sure this doesn’t happen again).”

When asked if these facilities should be inspected more frequently, Kunishige said, “I’m not the lead project planner on that so I can’t really comment on that. I know that they have a lot of schools to look at statewide.”

Although Kunishige says the shelters, including Keolu, are safe, she encourages people to retrofit their homes and to create a safe room they can go to during an emergency.

“These shelters are designed to provide increased protection. Nothing is 100-percent certain against nature,” she said.

Emergency officials also said because the cafeteria is structurally sound, it could possibly be used as an emergency shelter with a damaged roof.

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