FEMA 361 shelter decision delayed

Published 11:11 pm Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NATCHEZ — You can’t delay an emergency, but the Adams County Board of Supervisors delayed Monday a decision about funding the construction of the FEMA 361 shelter.

Bids for the shelter — which has been five years in the planning — came in higher than expected in September.

After cost engineering and working with the potential contractor to reduce the costs, Joseph Zaydel with AEDD-plus — the architecture firm that designed the 10,000-square foot building meant to withstand the wind power of an EF5 tornado — told the supervisors the construction would need an approximately $180,000 contribution from the county. The bids submitted were for approximately $3.6 million.

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The majority of the funding comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and initial plans were for the county’s required input to be met only with in-kind contributions. The shelter will be located near the Steckler Building at Natchez High School and will be used by the Natchez-Adams County School District as both a storm shelter and for other school events.

Zaydel told the supervisors Monday he had asked the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency for additional funding to cover the overrun in costs, but MEMA officials had been unable to guarantee anything in part because of the federal government’s shutdown.

While the possibility of additional federal or state funding is great if it happens, he said, the county needs to decide if it is willing to commit to the funding regardless of the answer given by federal or state agencies.

However, the contractor told him construction prices would be locked in if the county awarded the project now, Zaydel said, citing concerns that bids would only go up if the project was let for bid again.

“The reason the bids are high is we are going off of a 2008 cost estimate,” he said. “Over the last four years, the cost of metals, the cost of concrete have all gone up, and that is where it unfortunately has driven this cost.”

Supervisor Mike Lazarus said the county’s budget doesn’t reflect the money needed for the extra funding.

“We would have to borrow the $180,000,” he said. “That is the biggest part of it.”

Both Supervisor David Carter and Lazarus voiced support for waiting for the county to hear back from FEMA before wholly committing to breaking ground on the project.

“I would hate to make a decision right now with the shutdown,” Carter said.

The two supervisors likewise expressed concern the shelter would be located too far away from the school to be effective in the event of a storm.

“By the time you get them from the school to where the shelter is going to be, you have put them in harm’s way,” he said. “I think it would be much better to get them to that gym that’s down in the ground.”

Zaydel said a simple training measure similar to a fire drill could be used to teach students and staff members how to get to the building quickly and safely.

“To say that we never know that a storm is coming, I hate to say it, but that’s a cop out,” he said.

Supervisors’ President Darryl Grennell said he believes the county should build the shelter because NHS’ layout doesn’t have anywhere safe from flying glass for students to evacuate in the event of a severe storm.

“I think we need the shelter, especially for the school — all the community and recreation center use is secondary and tertiary for me,” he said.

“If we are facing tornado activity that would affect our school, if something happens and I voted no and we don’t proceed with the shelter, and we have an event that has fatalities, I have to live with that the rest of my life.”

When prompted by board attorney Scott Slover, Adams County Emergency Management Director Stan Owens said his office had found some funds that could be directed to the project if other funding could not be found. Grennell asked if the board was willing to wait until its second meeting of the month so a board member could approach the NASD about a possible financial contribution to the project.

Zaydel said the bids will be good until the end of October, and the board voted to wait until the end of the month to make a decision.