Posted on

Spencer dome project waits on FEMA word

As Thanksgiving came and went, and then Christmas, and now it’s beyond the end of the school year’s first semester, the Spencer School District waits. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is going to give the district a sizeable construction grant for a new concrete dome gymnasium structure, but it’s not saying yet how much.

Given that the grant could be anywhere from $1.5 million to $2.5 million, that final number needs to be known before the district can move forward with establishing building budgets and plans. The grant is coming -- that’s a guarantee, says District Administrator Mike Endreas -- but for now it’s a waiting game on the final award figure.

FEMA had indicated it would announce the final amount in December, but that didn’t happen. Because this project is somewhat complicated by the fact that the district will be paying for parts of the dome construction while FEMA will be funding the part that relates to a community storm shelter, it’s taking longer than anticipated to apportion the numbers.

“It’s still a back and forth,” Endreas said of the district’s dealings with FEMA. “They’re just verifying numbers. They’re doing their diligence on it. I don’t blame them.”

The FEMA grant will help the district pay for the $5.98 million construction referendum passed by Spencer voters in April 2019. The centerpiece of the building project will be a dome structure on the east side of the high school. It will house a new gymnasium, wrestling area and fitness center, but it will also double as a community shelter in case of a tornado or other natural disaster. Because the village has no other designated structure, it was eligible for funding under FEMA’s Pre-Disaster-Mitigation grant program.

Voters passed the referendum even though the grant award was not certain at the time. FEMA did announce in mid-June that Spencer would get a significant grant, but did not give a number. It still hasn’t, and that’s causing some anxiety as the district tries to get the ball rolling on project plans. It wants to start hiring contractors so work can begin this coming construction season, but until the final grant amount is known, project details remain a question mark.

“We want to hire contractors,” Endreas said. “People are going to start filling in their calendars. I’d rather be on the front end of that than the back end. We’re walking right up to that line.”

That does not mean that nothing has happened since passage of the referendum more than nine months ago. The district already completed one part of the overall project -- the relocation of the elementary office to a more secure location on the south end of the school complex. That work was done over the summer and finished when school started in September.

A second part of the work -- renovation of the high school family and consumer science (FACE) classroom -- is also moving ahead. The district Board of Education will be awarding bids for that job on Feb. 4, and the work will commence as soon as classes let out this spring. The project, which includes removal of the last-known asbestos in the school as well as a complete replacement of cabinets, plumbing, appliances etc., is expected to be ready for classes in fall.

Also, Endreas said, the Board is ready to release bid specifications in February for excavation work that needs to be done before the dome construction can start. The dome will be attached to the current high school building, and significant site work must be done in preparation. That will include tearing out of the existing high school softball diamond and concession stand. The softball team will use the Spencer Village ARC park this season as construction gets underway.

The district already knows it will hire South Industries of Idaho to build the dome. That firm specializes in dome structures, and says it will need 12 weeks to complete its portion of the project. The hope is that the dome will be erected begining this summer. Once it is enclosed, contractors completing interior work such as installation of the gym floor, bleachers, etc., will not be impacted by weather. If all goes as planned, Endreas said the district expects to be using the new dome by January 2021.

What the wait for FEMA word is affecting is the final scope of work. When the district went to referendum, it told voters that -- if successful in the grant application -- it would use as much as $750,000 to complete additional work such as restroom renovation, an elevator upgrade, and renovation of an unused courtyard area in the elementary portion of the school. How much the grant ends up to be will determine how much of that work will be done.

Endreas said the final grant amount will be based on the number of people the dome will be expected to hold, and what portion of the project is not related to an emergency shelter use. For example, the district must pay for the gym floor, fitness center, etc.

“It has to be pro-rated,” he said. “How much will be used as a safe shelter? How much won’t be?”

Endreas said the district has to be patient as it waits, and architects, contractors, etc., that are involved so far understand the predicament. Endreas said the district can wait into February and still not see negative impacts, but deadlines are nearing.

Meanwhile, he said he’s trying to assure community members that all is well. Rumors have circulated that the project would not happen, but it’s just that -- a rumor.

“Yes, the dome project is going to happen,” he said. “Oh, I’ve heard, ‘You’re not going to do the dome now.’ No, that’s not accurate. We still have the funds to do the project.”