The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

July 3, 2013

Residents curious about shelter program

— Questions about ongoing efforts to build safe rooms resurfaced during Monday’s Limestone County Commission meeting as local residents inquired about available community shelters and those slated for construction.

There are currently eight safe rooms or storm shelters available for community use during severe weather, according to the Limestone County Emergency Management Agency.

In addition to the EMA list, Commissioner Steve Turner announced during Monday’s meeting a safe room with a capacity for 500 people is available at Bethel Church of Christ at the intersection of Capshaw and Bledsoe roads.

The Limestone EMA is in the process of building eight safe rooms through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The eight slated for construction are: Elkmont, Cowford, Pisgah, Pine Ridge, Ark of Promise, Wooley Springs Baptist Church, Ardmore and Owens VFD Station No. 2.

The county will pay the upfront construction cost for the safe rooms, and FEMA will reimburse the county for a previously approved amount, said Limestone EMA Director Rita White on Tuesday.

Shelter process

White said building safe rooms or storm shelters using federal grants is a lengthy process due to the application process and funding that does not cover the total cost of a project.

Each HMGP project has its own funding. Money for one safe room cannot be used to fund another, White said.

She said of the eight separate grants, the Elkmont and Cowford shelters were applied for in 2009, while the other six were requested in the aftermath of the April 2011 tornadoes.

“When we applied for those grants, we had to include what we believed a shelter would cost. Since then, prices have increased,” White said. “It took a while to get the grants approved and a lot of new requirements have been added that have also added to the cost of the projects.”

White said the county EMA to date has completed all the paperwork needed for the projects, including applying for other funding.

“It’s not like going and building a house because there are all sorts of federal and state guidelines,” she said. “For example, since we applied for any of these shelters, we now have to have a certified contractor for each project.

“We get a lot of calls about shelters but it’s a lot more complicated then just building a shelter in a location. We would love to get these done, and we want to finish these projects more than anybody.”

The safe rooms at Elkmont and Cowford are in the bid process, and sealed bids are due by 2 p.m. Thursday, July 25, according to county officials. Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood’s Leonard Robinson in Huntsville is the architect for both projects.

The total eligible project cost for Elkmont is $147,271, with a non-federal share of $36,818. Cowford’s is $150,651, with a non-federal cost of $40,927.

White said the Ardmore safe room, which was budgeted for $270,213, needed $67,553 in additional funding through the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund. The Ardmore project architect is Lee Helms Associates in Clanton.

“We’ve done everything we can at this point, and we’re in a waiting stage for additional funding. As soon as we get the funds, we’ll start (construction) on the Elkmont and Cowford projects,” White said.

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