Southwest Missouri safe room projects on hold during shutdown

Sunday, October 13, 2013 | 5:22 p.m. CDT

NEOSHO — Several southwest Missouri school districts say the federal shutdown could cause construction delays for safe rooms because the paperwork behind the projects must be completed by workers who are currently furloughed.

For the Neosho School District, that means more than $10 million worth of safe room plans are up in the air. Avilla, Webb City, McDonald County and Joplin also have safe room plans awaiting approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, The Joplin Globe reported.

"It certainly concerns me," said Tim Crawley, operations manager for the Neosho School District.

Interest in safe rooms increased sharply after a May 22, 2011, tornado wiped out a large swath of Joplin and killed 161 people. Several local schools were either damaged or destroyed.

Neosho's safe room plans include a $6 million, two-story, 18-classroom addition at the high school, a $2 million practice gymnasium and stage at one elementary school and a $1 million classroom addition at another.

"We're expecting to be approved right around Thanksgiving time," Crawley said. "If it's not approved by the first week of December — at the latest — the construction schedule will be thrown off."

Webb City is moving forward with the construction of two safe rooms, but others planned for the school district likely will be delayed if the shutdown continues.

Avilla is working on a 5,000-square foot safe room project designed as a cafeteria that includes a new kitchen and a small commons area connecting the existing gym to the cafeteria.

Architect Brad Erwin, of Paragon Architects in Springfield, said design documents for that project and some in the McDonald County School District were completed in September and approved by the State Emergency Management Agency, which then sent them to FEMA in Washington.

"With FEMA people being out of the office, they can't do the technical review," Erwin said, "and then the people up the chain from there — financial compliance, etc. — aren't working either. All those projects will have a delay in getting released."

Once FEMA approves designs, districts can move on to the bid process, which takes six to eight weeks to complete, Erwin said.

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