Oktibbeha County may be a step closer to building a long-planned storm shelter after a contingent of Mississippi politicians helped secure more than $1 million in federal funding for the project.
U.S. senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss) and U.S. reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) announced $1.54 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in a joint press release issued earlier this week. The funding was awarded for a planned 8,756 square-foot domed facility that will be built at 607 Lynn Lane in Starkville.
The facility is planned to have 7,910 square feet of usable space to service 1,600 people. FEMA has contributed $1.79 million to the project, including $242,802 for design and engineering funding awarded in December 2014. The total contribution amounts to 87 percent of the shelter’s projected $2.04 million cost, with the rest of the funding set to come from nonfederal sources. It’s currently unclear when construction is planned for the shelter.
“Oktibbeha County and FEMA will construct this facility to provide new options for staying safe during severe weather,” Cochran said. “I’m pleased this funding has been awarded to help make the community better prepared for emergency situations.”
Oktibbeha County has been planning the shelter since 2014, after a tornado outbreak ravaged Mississippi, including an EF-4 tornado that devastated Louisville. What was originally planned to be a 20,000 square-foot, $4.2 million structure was scaled down and the county has waited for funding to start the project.
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery told The Dispatch he was pleased to see the federal funding awarded. He said it brings the county a step closer to having a shelter for residents.
“We’ll have to see where this puts us,” he said. “We’re right there at it — we’ll have to see where the remaining funding can come from.”
Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said the county will look into ways to fund the project, including setting aside some of its own money or using a bond to pay the remaining $250,000. He said the county shouldn’t have to add any taxes to pay for the shelter.
“We’ve been preparing for this for the past few years,” Trainer said. “It won’t put us in a bind. Worst-case scenario, we can move some things around. But, for a building like that, that’s going to be used for many years, we can get a note.
“It’s safe to say the board is going to take advantage (of this) opportunity because they don’t come around too often,” Trainer added. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth too long, because if you do, he’ll leave you.”
The storm shelter will be built to FEMA 361 standards to withstand winds up to 250 miles per hour, according to the press release. As a multi-use facility, it will also be available for community meetings and events.
“With the recent storms and severe weather that devastated many communities across our nation, the need for storm shelters is more apparent than ever,” Harper said. “The funding and construction of this multi-purpose safe-room will greatly increase severe weather protections for the people of Starkville and Oktibbeha County.”
Wicker, in his issued statement, said he was happy to see the county gain funding for the shelter.
“I’m thankful the people of Starkville and Oktibbeha County will soon have a safe place to seek shelter,” he said. “Storm shelters are essential to ensuring students, faculty, staff and citizens are protected from Mississippi’s unpredictable and often dangerous weather.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.