Final Approval Expected for FEMA Grant to Fund Tornado Safe Rooms at DeKalb West School

April 13, 2012
Dwayne Page
Mark Willoughby

The school system is one step closer to final approval of a FEMA grant to fund a classroom addition at DeKalb West School, including eight tornado "safe rooms"

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby announced Thursday night during the school board meeting that the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency has approved grant funds of more than $1.5 million for the project, pending final approval by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Willoughby said he learned of TEMA's approval in a letter to him from David Brown of Kaatz, Binkley, Jones & Morris Architects of Mount Juliet. "The application has been approved for more than $1.5 million dollars. They are working on review comments from TEMA and will send the revised application to them tomorrow (Friday). The approval letter from TEMA should come right after we submit the application. The application then goes to FEMA in Atlanta for final approval. It will take several months for the money to become available. After final approval one of the next steps is that we're going to have a contract to hire Kaatz, Binkley who has done this work and Lashlee-Rich and once we get the hard numbers we will have to vote to do this (project) and see if we can include the kitchen and cafeteria (renovation/expansion) at the west school (using local funds). We're going to need to do that (cafeteria/kitchen work) sooner or later but doing that at this time would be much cheaper than leaving it and then coming back (to do the cafeteria/kitchen work later). You'd have all the equipment there and could do everything at one time a lot cheaper than you could rebid and everything," said Willoughby.

The design for a proposed 15,000 square foot addition to DeKalb West School was unveiled in February during a school board workshop meeting. A $1.8 million FEMA grant application was filed on behalf of the school system, which is to fund most of the project with the rest, about $600,000 to be paid for locally.

The new construction is designed to be built in the front of the existing school.

David Brown of Kaatz, Binkley, Jones & Morris Architects of Mount Juliet updated Director of Schools Willloughby and members of the Board of Education on the project during that February workshop. Brown said the plan includes eight "safe rooms"to relieve overcrowding and to shelter students, school staff, and the general public in times of severe weather.

Twenty three million dollars is available to eligible applicants under the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant program. During a special called meeting in December, the Board of Education voted to pay KBJM Architects, Inc. a total of $7,500 to prepare a design for the project and to pay Lashlee-Rich, Inc. of Humbolt $7,500 to prepare cost estimates and for the grant writing.

Under this FEMA grant program, the federal government pays 75% of the cost, if approved. The state pays 12.5% leaving the local share at 12.5%. Any further costs related to construction not covered by the FEMA grant, including furnishing classrooms, would be funded locally. "We are proposing the addition in the front of the school," said Brown. We have eight classrooms, restrooms, a new secure entrance, an office, clinic, conference room, guidance and teacher work area all in that corridor. A janitors closet would be in the room where the generator will go. That is the addition we are proposing to meet these federal standards," said Brown.

According to Brown, the proposed new addition would not only provide more classroom space and better shelter in the event of storms, but it would make the school more secure. "We're designing this for (to withstand) a 250 mile per hour wind with debris and projectiles going that fast. So all of that construction is going to be beefed up to meet those standards. Obviously constructing a building that way is much more expensive than just your run of the mill construction. That's why the grant is there. There's no way anybody could afford to do this just on their own initiative. The grant is crucial to this," said Brown.

Once approved for the grant, Brown said the school system has up to three years to spend the funds.

Although a new larger DWS cafeteria and kitchen does not qualify under the FEMA grant as school officials had hoped, the architects have included in the design an expansion of the existing dining area. "I'm showing about a 30% increase in the cafeteria space. This will increase the core of this campus up to about 600 students," said Brown.

DeKalb West School, which opened in 1974, was built for 320 students. The current enrollment is 445 plus faculty and staff. To relieve overcrowding, a portable with two classrooms is currently located on the campus. In times of storms, officials say the general public would be welcome to take shelter with students and school staff in the safe rooms, which could accommodate up to one thousand individuals.

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