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CCCSC trustees discuss safe room grant options

August 28, 2013
Last year's tornado that decimated Henryville and the surrounding towns, along with its imperfect timing that put many schoolchildren in harm's way, has caused many districts throughout the state to take a look at how they house their students during a possible emergency situation and has forced them to update their preparedness plans.

Crawford County Community School Corp. is no different. At its Aug. 20 meeting, the board of trustees viewed a presentation from Larry Timperman, of Michell Timperman Ritz Architects, and Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Lisa Gehlhausen regarding a possible "safe room" project for each of the corporation's six schools.

Above is a small-scale representation of the hardened training and locker room facilities to be added to Crawford County Junior-Senior High School if funding is granted. Courtesy of Michell Timperman Ritz Architects
Superintendent Dr. Mark Eastridge said that safe room facilities are something the corporation has been looking at more and more over the last year or two.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened up grant funds for safe room projects across Indiana.

One is a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that provides a cost share of 75/25. FEMA would provide 75 percent of the cost of the program, with the maximum grant at $400,000, while the corporation would be responsible for the other 25 percent.

In the state's recommendation, Marengo Elementary would be the only choice to receive a safe room from the grant due to the F-3 tornado that devastated the town in 2004.

Another option would be to apply for the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Competitive grant program. All of the corporation's schools are eligible for this grant, not just Marengo.

Under this grant, schools can apply for up to $3 million. It is also a 75/25 cost-share grant. The state will fund only three projects, so the State Hazard Mitigation Officer has recommended funding requests stay around $500,000.

Both grants are competitive.

Timperman and Gehlhausen presented projects on each of the corporation's schools, though the trustees had to make the decision on which schools they would enter into the grant pool.

"That is a key question I have," Eastridge said. "Would we be putting ourselves in competition with ourselves? Because there's not enough money to do all of these."

The answer, possibly, is yes. Due to the money available and requests made, more than three projects could be funded, but the probability of that is unknown, Gehlhausen said.

Each plan, with the exception of the junior-senior high school, consists of adding two hardened classrooms or a conference room and a small hardened corridor that is designed to hold the entire student population as well as members of the community within walking and a short driving distance.

"That is a stipulation of the grant," Gehlhausen said. "The public must have access to the safe room facility in the event of an emergency."

For example, the plans for Leavenworth Elementary School include building one 990-square-foot classroom, one 1,070-square-foot classroom and a 260-square-foot corridor, all of hardened materials that are made to withstand a high-ranking tornado on the Fujita scale.

"The nice thing about this program is that it used to be years ago they designed shelters and they were exclusively for that use," Timperman said. "Today, FEMA has come around, and all these additions are now classrooms."

The Leavenworth plans provide safe space for approximately 440 people and would have a cost of $829,405. Following that example, if the corporation received the grant, it would be responsible for only $207,352, with FEMA picking up the rest of the tab.

That high price tag is one of the reasons why the school corporation must seek a grant.

"We can't do this without it," Eastridge said. "It's too costly."

Deciding which project to put up for the grant was a difficult choice. Since the PDMC grant will only be awarded to three schools in the state, the trustees had to decide whether or not to let the schools in their corporation "compete" against each other.

"How do we sit here with all of these parents here and say one school is more important than another?" trustee Dennis Talley asked. "That's a bad situation to be in. How can we pick which kids are more important? We can't do that."

His viewpoint was mirrored by each of the board members in turn.

Trustee Kelly Hammond said that he has been involved in several studies and is worried about the "dotted line" that falls right over the junior-senior high school in many of those studies.

"It hasn't been hit … yet," he said, adding, "we have been so lucky."

Timperman said the safe rooms have a specific purpose — to shelter individuals during severe weather — and aren't designed for an extended stay, which is why so many people can be housed in a relatively small space.

"From FEMA's point of view, you figure five square foot per person is a rule," he said. "… These are designed for a maximum of two hours during a tornado."

After reviewing the plans, the board requested that "Plan A" for the junior-senior high school be entered into the grant process.

The plan includes an addition of a 2,500-square-foot weight room/training facility, 155-square-foot storage area, 650-square-foot lobby area, two 180-square-foot rest room facilities, a 575-square-foot locker area, a 585-square-foot locker area and unspecified square footage for a concession area. Gross new safe room space would amount to 5,750 square feet, all hardened to FEMA standards.

The facility, if funded, would provide a safe space for approximately 950 people.

An alternative plan was presented that included a non-hardened auxiliary gym but was rejected.

The new safe room construction for the junior-senior high would cost almost $1.3 million. If chosen for the grant the school would be responsible for 25 percent of the cost, $425,811; FEMA would cover the remaining balance.

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