A proposed construction project to build eight "safe rooms" in a classroom addition at DeKalb West School qualifies for federal funding under the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, according to an architect for Kaatz, Binkley, Jones & Morris Architects of Mount Juliet.
Alan Troy of KBJM Architects, Inc. updated the Director of Schools and members of the Board of Education on the project during Thursday night's regular monthly meeting. "DeKalb West is eligible for the FEMA Hazard grant. There were a couple of requirements for that which are being taken care of. It is eligible for the grant but one of the requirements is that there needs to be a FEMA approved Hazard Mitigation Plan which you do not have. But I understand that someone with the Tennessee Emergency Management Association and those representatives have set up a meeting with the county to get that plan and to get it approved. The other requirement is that the county participate in the National Flood Insurance Program and its been confirmed that this county does participate in that so it meets the requirements," said Troy.
Millions of dollars are available to eligible applicants under the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for building safe rooms to withstand winds in the event of a tornado. In this case, not only would the new safe rooms provide a place for students and school staff to take shelter in the event of a tornado, it would also ease overcrowding at the school by providing more classroom space.
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 school system could apply for up to three million dollars for this project with the federal government paying 75% of the cost, if approved. The state would pay 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.
School officials had hoped to include construction of a new kitchen/cafeteria area for DeKalb West under this FEMA grant program, but Troy said that aspect of the plan will not qualify. "The design team met with the grant writer on January 5 to discuss the addition. There are some changes in the way the project will be approach. The plan was initially to include the kitchen and cafeteria work but its based on the area that this (construction project) will serve. You won't be eligible to include that much area (in this grant application). The kitchen and cafeteria will be standard construction but the classroom addition will be designed to meet the FEMA guidelines," said Troy
According to Troy, a specific budget for this project is not yet available, but it compares to a similar project at another school district. "A proposed budget has been submitted. Its not specific to this project but its similar in a possible dollar amount and what's eligible. In short, this project was a total preliminary construction budget of just over two million dollars and the net cost to the school district with the FEMA grant was $688,000," said Troy.
Director Willoughby said he is hopeful the kitchen concerns at DeKalb West can still be addressed and that any new cafeteria can be built under FEMA guidelines to make it a safe room for the community during severe weather. "We really need a cafeteria/lunchroom expansion down there. We really need it badly. We surveyed a half mile radius of the school and because of the fact that the population is not very dense within a half mile radius of that school, that's one of the reasons that it doesn't qualify for us to do the cafeteria in this grant. Because this is FEMA and it (safe rooms) would be used in case of emergencies, the complete school (students and staff) could go in those eight classrooms that we're hoping to build for tornado drills, tornadoes, and things like that. Those eight rooms would take care of faculty, staff, students, and everybody in the school. They would have a safe place to be. We were hoping we could get the cafeteria and the kitchen in with this (grant application) if the population had been high enough there. That way we could have also opened it (cafeteria safe room) to the community if we had an emergency situation. If we included the cafeteria in with this grant, since the population around that school is not very dense, it would decrease our chances of getting any of that grant. I would suggest that if or when we do the cafeteria and lunchroom that we build it to FEMA specifications and still have it for the community to come in. It wouldn't be a lot more expensive. But as far as being able to build the cafeteria at this time with FEMA money, that is probably not going to be in the package," said Willoughby.
Asked why DeKalb West School was considered first for the project, over the other schools, Willoughby said DeKalb West would be the most likely school to qualify for the FEMA grant, but he added that the other schools in the county could be considered in future proposals if grant funds are still available. "If these grants continue, we will be looking toward doing this at other places. But because of the population of that school, with a little bit over 400 students and the eight classrooms that it would take care of, it could get everyone in that school. So I think that's probably going to be a plus factor (in the grant evaluation process). Plus, it would take us longer (from Smithville) to get to that area (DeKalb West School) in an emergency situation.
DeKalb West has a student enrollment of around 450 students.
The deadline for submitting the grant application is March 1st.
The board of education has scheduled a workshop for Saturday, February 18 at 9:00 a.m. to meet with the architects to discuss the project further.