SEMA funds new tornado safe room in Morgan County

May 6, 2014

Morgan County R-2 School District has finalized plans for a new auditorium. The district will use a grant from the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency—or SEMA, to help finance the project. Plans for the new auditorium call for the building to double as a safe room for tornadoes.

The safe room project was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency—or FEMA. The funding is distributed through the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency—or SEMA.

Superintendent Joyce Ryerson for the Morgan County R-2 School District said although there was a need for new auditorium, it was because of a tornado in 2006, which nearly hit the South Elementary School in Gravois Mills that prompted the decision.                                                          

“We became aware that FEMA was providing grants for shelters to help protect students in the event of a tornado,” Ryerson said. “So our district first started looking at the grant back in 2012. We started with a presentation to our board of education in March of 2012. We filed a notice of intent in April of 2012.”

Ryerson said because of FEMA regulations the safe room needs to be within five minutes of individuals seeking shelter. The 15,000 square foot auditorium will house 1,700 people. Currently the district is in phase one of the two-phase process.

“The time clock is already ticking on what they call the design phase,” Ryerson said. “They expect the design phase would take about 11 months. So we have until around the first part of November to get all of the blue prints and drawings everything to FEMA for approval. They also have to be certified by engineers that they will withstand an EF-5tornado.”

Thanks to the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, FEMA will contribute 75 percent or $1.8 million of the $2.4 million of construction costs. The remaining 25 percent of the costs will be shifted to the district.

FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistant Specialist Brian Woltz said although FEMA is not working directly with the Morgan County R-2 School District safe room projects like this are not unusual.

“Safe rooms are pretty common project type under the hazard mitigation program at least in our region, which is region 7,” Woltz said.

Woltz said although the funding for the project is through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the funds are only made available after a presidentially declared disaster to the state.

The location of the new auditorium is set for the main campus of the School District where its elementary, middle and high schools are situated. The completion of the safe room is estimated for the fall of 2016.