Medford schools OKs plan to submit for federal storm shelter grant
Medford school district leaders are hoping a federal storm shelter grant program may be able to help address security and provide additional space for technical education and physical education at the high school.
At Monday’s meeting of the Medford Area Public School District board of education, board members approved moving forward with a floor plan in order to submit a grant to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by the end of the year.
Last year, the district had submitted a similar proposal with a different design but was unsuccessful due to technical changes in the grant program regarding emergency planning documents.
In seeking to reapply, the district is looking beyond the shelter space simply being used for additional gym space, but looking to also add three tech ed classrooms, office spaces, storage, additional rest room space and the See SCHOOL on page 20 long-sought-after connection between the tech ed building and the main high school building. The total square footage would be 21,750 feet of which 11,424 square feet would meet the FEMA Safe Space Requirements able to stand up to wind load of up to 250 mph. The estimated cost of the structure would be about $8.4 million with the federal FEMA grant to cover about $5 million of the cost with the remainder as a local match. According to district administrator Pat Sullivan, the district has already received pledges of about $700,000 and if the project was approved and moved forward would have to find the additional funds to cover the cost.
The district currently has about $1.5 million in the Fund 46 account set aside for future building needs which could be applied if needed to this project. It was noted that other districts such as Spencer and Abbotsford had gone to referendum to cover the local portion and outfit their FEMA structures for school use. Other sources of funds for the project could come from the district’s fund balance account, which provide operating reserves for the district between receipt of tax settlements and state aid payments.
Board member Brian Hallgren suggested the district could go to referendum for the entire project cost to move forward with it regardless of if the district got the grant or not. He noted if the district got the grant, money could be used for other needed projects at the high school. It was noted that without the FEMA requirements for wind load on the space, the cost would be lower. Other board members were reluctant to consider a referendum. Board member Don Everhard suggested it would damage good will in the community to ask for a referendum and use the money for another purpose. “Do people feel like you are dealing from the bottom of the deck?” he asked.
A decision on how the school could fund their portion is a long way off at this point. The earliest the school could receive word on if it qualified for the grant would be July 2023, although in this year’s cycle notices were not made until August. If the district was successful at that level, there would be additional review and the earliest construction would be able to begin would be summer of 2024.
The district is working with consultant Jordan Buss of JBAD of Spencer to apply for the FEMA grant and with Plunkett Raysich Architects and Findorff on the designs. Approval of the preliminary floor plan by school board members clears the way for the consultant to submit the grant application later this month. This is pending the city council’s approval of being the passthrough agency and having the city council approve including the school district under its emergency planning documents.
Prior to appearing at the school board meeting on Monday, Buss had been a few blocks away at the city council committee of the whole meeting presenting the plan to city aldermen. Rather than taking action, the city council called on district administrator Pat Sullivan and the city’s attorney to attend the December 6 city council meeting to answer questions. (See story on Page 3) Last month, school board members asked for a floor plan that would address technology education needs as well as providing office spaces for mental health counselors, law enforcement and other professionals to meet confidentially with students as needed. There is currently a lack of private spaces for this in the high school building for these needs. These changes were suggested as a way to address needs in the district, and in the process reduced the available space for a proposed gym.
The preliminary floor plan presented at the meeting calls for an L-shaped addition and a practice gym measuring 7,427 square feet. By comparison the existing high school gym, Raider Hall, measures about 8,300 square feet and the gym at Medford Area Elementary School is about 8,100 square feet.
Board member John Zuleger questioned the need for an additional 12 bathroom stalls in the structure when the existing bathrooms if the tech ed building would be there also. Engineers explained that the FEMA program required a certain number of bathroom spaces to fit those who may end up using it as a storm shelter. Zuleger suggested that given the age of the existing bathrooms in the tech ed building, the district should consider converting that bathroom space to other purposes if the project moves forward.
Zuleger praised the proposed design noting that unlike a dome structure which is a specialized construction style, he said this design could be built by any competent general contractor. “Any good general contractor could put this up,” he said.
Board member Jodi Nuernberger also praised the design. “It is something to get excited about,” she said.
“I am in favor of going forward with this floor plan,” said board president Dave Fleegel. He noted the district had a number of opportunities to finalize or change things as the application process goes forward including opportunities to stop the project.