Forrest County school safe room awaits nod from D.C.


Petal School District Superintendent Dr. Matt Dillon and Brian Freeman, Forrest County School District superintendent, received an update on the tornado safe rooms that are being built on 12 Forrest County campuses. Gregg Kennedy, a representative of Broaddus & Associates, who is overseeing the projects, spoke to the Forrest County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Tornado safe rooms were first discussed following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when the state launched a SafeRoom initiative to protect its citizens. According to Robert Latham, executive director for MEMA, 10 years later, 62 safe rooms had been built or were under construction. The Forrest County board has been discussing the structures and seeking FEM grants to fund them since 2013. In June 2015, FEMA awarded $85,080 for planning and design work for the local structures.

The approximate cost for each shelter is $1 million with a 90/10 match required by the Hazard Mitigation Grant program. The key purpose of this grant program is to enact mitigation measures that reduce the risk of loss of life and property from future disasters.

The HMGP supports cost-effective post-disaster projects and is the longest running mitigation program among FEMA’s grant programs. Data shows that investments in hazard mitigation before a disaster creates a net savings of taxpayer dollars during post-disaster response and recovery periods.

Forrest County was the recipient of $12 million in federal funds to build safe rooms across the county. With all the preliminary work out of the way, Kennedy said they are just waiting for the final FEMA Phase 1 approval to come out of Washington, D.C., so Phase 2, the bidding process, can begin.

As of Tuesday, while all 12 of the buildings have received FEMA approval, the first to come out of the FEMA queue is the Dixie Attendance Center. That funding was announced in January by U.S. Senators Thad Cochran, Roger Wicker and Congressman Steven Palazzo.

The board approved advertising for bids for the Dixie construction during Tuesday’s meeting. Bids will be accepted through 2 p.m. Thursday, March 22.

Kennedy said with this bid process, supervisors could look for a mid-June date for construction to begin.The 3,500-square-foot Dixie center at 790 Elks Lake Road will have an occupancy of around 750 and be built to withstand winds of 250 mph. Kennedy explained through the use of photos from structures already constructed at Coahoma Community College and Joyner Elementary School in Tupelo various components of the structure. He noted that the doors were FEMA rated with two-inch steel and the walls would consist of 10-inch solid concrete with steel reinforcements. Each structure will have water, bathroom facilities and heating/air systems. The only requirement is that the structures must be a multi-use facility. Some structure around the state are being used for art rooms, physical education classes oer indoor recess facilities.

According to Kennedy, FEMA projected the Dixie facility to cost approximately $1,283,490. The architect’s estimate for the monolithic dome structure is $1,150,000. Freeman questioned the expense of adding a brick veneer, so the structure would blend in with existing buildings on campus. Kennedy said for the Dixie facility it would run about $27,000 extra.

The safe rooms also need to be in close proximity to existing shelters on campus so even those students in classes farthest from the structure could be in within five minutes.

Dillon said his district will be constructing three domed and two rectangle facilities on its campuses. The facility on the Petal High campus will fit in a tight space next to the Polymer Science Building.

Dillon said it has been very challenging to keep people who questioned the progress of the Petal facilities informed because it’s been such a long process. “I don’t know what to tell people anymore,” he said.

Board President David Hogan said supervisors would be heading to Washington, D.C., the first week in March to meet with the Mississippi Congressional delegation and they could hopefully talk to someone to get the rest of the structures out of the queue and into the Phase 2 bid process, so construction could begin for all of the facilities.