NEOSHO, Mo. — The State Emergency Management Agency officially announced Thursday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded three Missouri school districts $3.5 million in grant funding to build tornado safe rooms.
These include the previously reported tornado shelter that will be added on to the Neosho School District's new Goodman Elementary School, as well as a stand-alone safe room on the Miller School District's high school campus in Lawrence County, and a safe room on the elementary and middle school campus of Christian County's Sparta School District.
"This is the actual, final step that they put in writing and now we have the official agreement," said Jim Cummins, Neosho superintendent. "What we (Neosho) had before was a verbal phone call from SEMA saying we had been approved for it, and now they have just put it in writing."
The three safe rooms would be capable of sheltering a total of more than 2,250 people combined, according to a SEMA news release.
"Across our state, we want our children to be as safe as possible in school, and that includes protection from dangerous, destructive severe weather," Gov. Mike Parson said in the news release. "I'm glad to see Missouri school districts are taking action to protect children and improved facilities; these grant funds will make a difference in an area of our state that has seen more than its share of deadly storms."
Goodman Elementary was destroyed by a tornado on April 4, 2017. Construction on the new school began in August, and school officials hope it can be completed by the end of June or early July.
The district was notified last fall that it had been awarded the FEMA grant to build a storm shelter that will be attached to the new Goodman Elementary building. As part of that grant, FEMA will pay 90 percent of the construction costs up to $1.25 million for a 5,000-square-foot shelter.
Then in January, the Neosho Board of Education voted to extend the storm shelter by 1,100 square feet to accommodate a regulation-size basketball court, increasing the district's part of the expenses to an estimated $850,000 to $1 million.
Now that the district has an official, written agreement from FEMA, its officials can begin to start working on the design of the new shelter, Cummins said.
"You have to take the design back to SEMA and they have to approve it before you can start bidding it for construction, and those things take time," Cummins said. "We would love to be able to move right from the construction that's going on down there right now, about the time they finish that up, it would be nice to start right in on the FEMA shelter."
Cummins said that construction on Goodman is going "very well," and that Branco Enterprises Inc., the contractor, feels comfortable that it can finish construction on schedule despite some weather setbacks.
"We're still pleased with how it's coming along," he said. "We're looking forward to this summer when we have to make kind of a quick transition and get it ready for school to start."
The safe room to be built on Lawrence County's Miller School District will be capable of protecting 519 students, staff and residents, and will also serve as a band space, according to a news release from the State Emergency Management Agency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay approximately $925,000 toward the project.