Monday, February 4, 2019

Board Hears Update on Safe Room Grants

Proposed High School Safe Room

Proposed Middle School Safe Room

Proposed Eastside Safe Room

Proposed Liberty Safe Room

The Sallisaw Board of Education met Wednesday during a special meeting to hear updates on the grant process for FEMA safe rooms for Sallisaw public schools.

Alice Smith with Jordan Resource Management, a grant-writing consulting firm, gave an update on the FEMA grant process to the board members.

Smith said a letter of intent to apply for safe-room funding for the four campuses in Sallisaw – Eastside and Liberty elementaries, the middle school and high school – was submitted in 2011, after the funding became available in 2000.

With the grant, FEMA would provide 75 percent of the funding, while the local school district is responsible for 25 percent, including in-kind donations of labor. The square footage of the safe rooms is determined based on the student population at each campus, according to Smith, with FEMA allowing five square feet per student and 10 square feet for each wheelchair-bound student.

While securing FEMA funds normally takes some time, Smith explained that the Sallisaw grant application got lost in paperwork after a death. The application was eventually submitted last November, according to Smith, and has been further delayed due to the month-long government shutdown.

“They seem very confident it will be approved,” said Smith, retired Poteau schools superintendent, who has facilitated many school safe room grants.

While waiting on final word on the grant, the board will peruse artist renderings of the four safe rooms, presented by Michael Johnson of Architecture Plus, Inc. in Fort Smith.

Johnson then went over the design plans for each of the four campuses with board members and the dozen others in attendance. Each design includes restrooms, a storage room and mechanical room. The structures include only those features which FEMA considers to be life-saving, such as the steel and concrete walls.

The Liberty Elementary design could also function as an athletic or physical education facility because of its taller ceiling. The 6,100-square foot facility would allow for basketball goals, which would be paid for by the district, and temporary seating along the sidelines.

Eastside Elementary’s proposed safe room of 4,200 square feet would also be used as additional dining area adjacent to the current cafeteria.

“The doors can be opened up for additional dining,” Johnson explained. “Overhead doors, which can go up and down as needed, have been approved by FEMA now.”

The safe room planned for the middle school campus would be 3,200 square feet, smaller due to only three grades there and a smaller enrollment. Johnson said it was intended as a safe room only.

At the high school campus, the 4,800-square-foot safe room could be used as a physical education facility, but is not tall enough to accommodate basketball.

Johnson explained that all of the safe rooms would have covered, connecting hallways to allow students and faculty to enter the safe room out of the elements in the event of a tornado. After school hours, the public would have access to the safe rooms as well.

Costs to build the safe rooms according to FEMA specifications are estimated to be at least $225 to $250 per square foot, Johnson said. 

Smith said when grants are approved, the district will have three years to build, and they do not have to build all four at once. Johnson suggested they build the two closer in proximity at the same time, to allow for sharing of contractor equipment.

The contractor would be selected through a bid process once the grants are approved. Operational plans would also be finalized to determine how the facilities would be unlocked and who would be responsible.

“This is a bonus to the community,” Smith said.

Pam Cloud, Managing News Director

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