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More than ‘just a building’

On the evening of May 20, 2013, Dr. Greg Winters drove past his school, not even recognizing where he was.
He had watched the weather coverage that evening and thought he would do a drive by the school after he saw the twister had been in the area while watching TV at home.
The massive EF5 tornado that ripped through Canadian County that day – one of many in the state –  turned the Canadian Valley Technology Center campus into a war zone, Winters discovered.
Debris and broken glass littered the grounds, a wind turbine blade had been thrown through what used to be the day-care center, some parts of the campus simply did not exist anymore.
Flash forward to 2017 and after nearly four years in the making, CV Tech hosted its grand reopening with a newly built, state-of-the-art campus on Tuesday.
School leaders were joined by Gov. Mary Fallin and a large crowd filled with local and state dignitaries.
Assistant Superintendent Bill Bradley opened up the ceremony acknowledging all of the special guests in attendance and health careers instructor Jaime Popp sang the National Anthem.
“This campus will now be termed before and after tornado,” Bradley said. “We are better today after the tornado because of the community and the extraordinary people that helped us get here.”
Gayla Lutts, deputy superintendent, delivered sometimes emotional commentary about the journey to build the new campus.
“Education empowers people to do more, be more, and the tornado didn’t stop that mission,” Lutts said.
Lutts said the school’s goal to be open in August after the tornado, led to many partnerships. Classes were hosted in a bank, a car dealership and a church. This created a challenge for instructors but Lutts said they pushed forward.
“Our educators got to know their neighbors better than ever before in that environment,” Lutts said.
Lutts also said CV Tech didn’t let the tornado stop the school from growing with updates to curriculum and programs.
The school official said while the campus was “just a building” and could be rebuilt, the teamwork that went into rebuilding amazed her.
Winters then took the stage, sharing his immediate aftermath experiences of the tornado. Television interviews, including Good Morning America, kept him busy initially and then the real work began of rebuilding.
“We made a lofty goal to reopen in August,” he said, adding he couldn’t thank everyone enough for their support.
In Gov. Fallin’s comments, she called the center one of the jewels in the crown of Canadian County, naming it’s reopening as “critical to the workforce.”
She said more career certifications are needed in the state and the CV Tech campus will provide those needed skill sets.
“I’m so excited about this campus and it was not easy to get here,” Fallin said.
The $54 million project features 97,840 square feet of shop space, 92,330 square feet of classrooms and 35,690 square feet for business and industry services, totaling out to 225,860 square feet.
The J.R. Gilliland Event Center, named after the school’s first superintendent, is 7,960 square feet with 648 theater-style seats and modern audio and video equipment. The event center will be used for assemblies and various speaking engagements, and will be available to the public.
Winters insisted the campus be one of the safest in the country. Five safe rooms were built, each one up to the standards of FEMA, including separate ventilation, 10-inch reinforced concrete walls and a restroom within each protected area. The safe rooms were made possible with the community’s help in a $12 million bond.
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Aliki Dyer, El Reno Tribune, contributed to this story.

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