$7.3M approved for safe rooms in Forrest Co., Petal

By HASKEL BURNS,

Eight more safe rooms are on the way to Petal and Forrest County schools, as state officials recently announced the approval of $7.3 million to fund the construction of the rooms around the school districts.

Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss; Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss; and Congressman Steven Palazzo, R-Miss, said late last week four of the eight rooms will be built in Petal, while three will be built in Hattiesburg and one in Brooklyn. The rooms will be used for students and staff in the case of inclement or dangerous weather.

“I commend the leadership in Forrest County for its diligence in pursuing resources to provide shelter for youth and residents during emergency situations,” Hyde-Smith said in a statement. “These safe rooms around the county will ensure more people survive severe weather situations.”

The rooms, which will be built to withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour, will be constructed at Petal High School, Petal Middle School, Petal Lower Elementary School, Petal Primary School, North Forrest High School, North Forrest Elementary School, Earl Travillion Attendance Center and South Forrest Attendance Center.

“It’s important for us to have storm shelters that we can utilize at our schools,” said Matt Dillon, superintendent of the Petal School District. “Obviously it’s going to provide another layer of protection as we deal with weather events from time to time throughout the course of the school year.

“In our efforts to keep our students, faculty and staff safe, this will give us a safe place to go. In addition to that, when we’re not using it for weather, we’ll be able to utilize it for some space needs that we have in our district as well.”

The eight new rooms will cost $8.7 million, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency covering approximately 85 percent of the funding and the county and school districts picking up the rest. Construction of the rooms will go out to bid in the near future.

Back in January, lawmakers announced $2 million in FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grand funding to construct two rooms in the county: $1 million for a room at Dixie Attendance Center and $1 million for another at Forrest County Agricultural High School.

The 5,000-square-foot room at FCAHS will be designed to hold 835 people within a half-mile radius and withstand wind speeds of up to 250 miles per hour. Dixie Attendance Center’s safe room, which is currently under construction, will accommodate up to 800 people, and will be capable of withstanding 200-mile-per-hour winds.

Those two rooms are expected to be finished sometime near the first of next year.

“The board certainly wants to thank our federal delegation – Roger Wicker, Cindy Hyde-Smith and Steven Palazzo – for their leadership in helping us secure … the projects,” said David Hogan, president of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors. “We’re excited that parents will know that their children are in the best possible place during times of inclement and dangerous weather.

“We’re proud to be a part of the process that will help make our community, and especially or children, safe. We’d also like to take our hats off to the school district’s leadership for their willingness to participate and come up with the matching funds necessary to qualify for the federal grant money.”

Officials are hopeful to get past floodplain delays at two other schools – Petal Upper Elementary and Rawls Springs Elementary – which would bring the total number of safe rooms in the area to 12.

“We hope that will be able to get resolved,” Hogan said.

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