By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – A safe room project for Davidson Elementary School that has been in the works for almost three years may be on the chopping block after school officials learned Monday that Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has problems with the grant application process.
The project was originally approved in July, 2013, when the school board authorized Broaddus and Associates to begin the application process to secure grant funding for the construction of the multi-purpose shelter adjacent to the school that would serve as a community tornado shelter and physical education center for the school.
In December, 2014, the school district received a letter of approval for phase one of the safe room, and six months later final construction details were reviewed, documents that were then sent to MEMA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the second phase of the process that would start the bid process.
Since then little has happened for the project that is estimated to cost upwards of $800,000 and would be funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, similar to other safe rooms constructed at schools across the state. The grant money actually flows through MEMA, and company officials with Broaddus and Associates explained Monday that MEMA will not reimburse funds for their initial work on the project.
“Due to a conflict of an interest because we put in the application and submitted the cost benefit analysis, MEMA will not reimburse us,” explained Lewis Ridgway, Senior Vice President for Broaddus & Associates.
“We have had years of doing this and never had a problem,” Ridgway also explained, adding that the problem stems from MEMA and not FEMA.
Ridgway added that his company is facing the same issue on other projects in the state, and requested the school district to enter a new contract that would allow the project to continue and for MEMA to reimburse his company for their work.
Later in the meeting, Ridgway pointed to recent scrutiny MEMA is facing, adding the agency is facing a myriad of problems.
“MEMA has been road blocking the project from the beginning,” Broaddus officials also said, adding the agency is a dumpster fire.
“Since you are saying MEMA is a dumpster fire, and I do agree with you on that, I have real reservations on whether there is going to be grant money through MEMA coming down through FEMA to pay for this,” trustee Pierce Epes said, adding that one of his concerns is FEMA will cut off of the hazard mitigation grant money coming to the state.
“That is one of the reasons we are here,” Ridgway added.
“That is the thing that we need to determine as a board, do we want to move forward with this project at all. Because we are taking a chance, we have to pay for it up front. We see how reimbursements are probably going to be an issue. We can be out $800,000 to a million dollars because we have a set time we have to pay bills according to state law,” Epes explained, adding that MEMA doesn’t have a set time to reimburse the district.
“We have more questions than answers,” Epes said later in the meeting as the matter was tabled.
The price tag for the first phase of the project that has been completed is upwards of $80,000, and includes the survey, geotechnical, soil testing and architectural and engineering fees. Of that amount, the federal government’s share was expected to be 90 percent.