Bakersfield School starts work on new FEMA storm shelter building
Bakersfield school officials and board members, with representatives from Springfield-based construction and architectural companies, staged a groundbreaking event Thursday for the school’s new storm shelter. The structure, funded primarily through a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is expected to be completed by the end of November.
In addition to being a safe room for students during school hours, the structure, with a capacity for 480 people, will be available 24/7 to residents of the community during bad-weather events. Bakersfield superintendent Amy Britt said the school has an emergency plan that designates people who will open the facility when a storm warning is issued for the area.
The Bakersfield school board voted recently to implement a four-day school week, beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
The safe room will cost $1,390,000, with 75 percent of the cost funded by a FEMA grant.
Britt said it has taken a long time to make the shelter a reality. The district began the process of applying for a FEMA grant in 2013, she said in an email to the Times. But the first application, finalized in 2014, was not approved by FEMA.
However, “the district continued to keep the application active and then, at the end of 2016, Bakersfield was awarded a FEMA grant,” Britt said. Early in 2017, the district finalized plans and put the project out for bids. But when the bids came back, it was obvious that the project, as designed, would cost more than the available grant funds if built in the first-choice design and location, which would have created a two-story shelter in the slope of the hill between the high school and the elementary school.
When it became apparent that the cost of the project, as originally designed, exceeded the grant funds available, the district settled for an alternate site on flat ground near the entrance of the middle school and gym. The contract was renegotiated with Springfield-based DeWitt Construction (which was the low bidder on the original bid) to construct a redesigned one-story building, Britt said.
Paragon Architecture from Springfield is the architect.
The building’s capacity and corresponding grant money awarded are calculated by FEMA based on the school’s population and how many people live within a certain range of the school, Britt said.
Bakersfield completed a new high school building in August 2016, but the timing in receiving the grant money didn’t work for including the FEMA structure in the new school’s construction.
For now, the storm shelter will be one big open room plus restrooms, a mechanical room and a FEMA supply room, Britt said. But the building will be plumbed “for a future art room space and additional space for classrooms or offices based on what is most needed,” she said.
The school is “evaluating all programs right now to see which services best fit in which locations on campus,” Britt said. “No matter which programs are moved into the FEMA space, we are excited about having additional space for future growth while only paying 25 percent of the cost.”
The FEMA shelter provides more space for the school without having to ask taxpayers for more money to pay for it, she said, adding, “Our taxpayers have been so supportive in providing for the needs of our school. We are doing everything we can to pay down the current high school levy as quickly as possible to reduce that burden on our taxpayers. We hope that by taking advantage of this FEMA grant to provide space for future needs, coupled with implementing the four-day week, the district will be able to provide great teachers, great facilities and save taxpayer money.”