Petal School District approves base bid for new safe rooms


The next step in bringing safe rooms to four schools in the Petal School District was made during a special-called meeting Monday night, when members of the Petal School District Board of Trustees voted 4-1 to approve the base bid for the rooms.

The buildings – which would be used in the case of inclement weather – will be built at Petal Primary School, Petal Elementary School, Petal Middle School and Petal High School. The school district’s part in the cost of construction for the four buildings, which will be handled by Hattiesburg contractor Hanco Corporation, is $514,100.

“Faculty, staff and students during the school day will have a safe place, as we’re dodging inclement weather from time to time throughout the course of any given school day,” said Matt Dillon, superintendent of the Petal School District.

Starting this week, there will be a 60-day final approval process through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. The four Petal safe rooms will be constructed within 365 days after that process.

The room at Petal Primary School will be a dome structure of 7,051 total square feet, while Petal Elementary School’s room will be a traditional structure of 4,274 square feet. Petal Middle School’s room will be a dome structure of 4,045 square feet, and Petal High School will receive an 8,250-square-foot traditional structure.

Board secretary Troy Wicktom, who cast the only dissenting vote against the measure, said he did so only because he was opposed to two of the options for changing bricks on the buildings.

“I agree with storm shelters 100 percent,” he said.

School officials are still working on bringing a dome-structured safe room to Petal Upper Elementary School, which is expected to follow after the four initial rooms are built.

“I talked to them today, and they’re running a public notice … because it’s six inches below a flood zone,” Dillon said. “If we’re looking to build a storm shelter which is only six inches below, that’s going to be taken care of during the ground work.

“Then from there, it’ll be in FEMA and MEMA’s hands, and we’ll continue to use the same process in talking to our state people and our federal people.”

Back in July, Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, along with Congressman Steven Palazzo, announced the approval of $7.3 million to fund construction of several safe rooms throughout schools in Petal and Forrest County. In addition to the rooms at the Petal schools, rooms also will be built at North Forrest High School, North Forrest Elementary School, Earl Travillion Attendance Center and South Forrest Attendance Center.

The eight new rooms – which will be built to withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour – will cost $8.7 million total, with FEMA covering approximately 85 percent of the funding and the county and school districts picking up the rest.

“I commend the leadership in Forrest County for its diligence in pursuing resources to provide shelter for youth and residents during emergency situations,” Hyde-Smith said in a previous story. “These safe rooms around the county will ensure more people survive severe weather situations.”

In January, lawmakers announced $2 million in FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grand funding to construct two other rooms in the county: $1 million for a room at Dixie Attendance Center and $1 million for another at Forrest County Agricultural High School.

The 5,000-square-foot room at FCAHS will be designed to hold 835 people within a half-mile radius and withstand wind speeds of up to 250 miles per hour. Dixie Attendance Center’s safe room, which is currently under construction, will accommodate up to 800 people, and will be capable of withstanding 200-mile-per-hour winds.

Those two rooms are expected to be finished sometime near the first of next year.

“The (Forrest County Board of Supervisors) wants to thank our federal delegation – Roger Wicker, Cindy Hyde-Smith and Steven Palazzo – for their leadership in helping us secure the projects,” board president David Hogan Said. “We’re excited that parents will know that their children are in the best possible place during times of inclement and dangerous weather.

“We’re proud to be a part of the process that will help make our community, and especially our children, safe. We’d also like to take our hats off to the school district’s leadership for their willingness to participate and come up with the matching funds necessary to qualify for the federal grant money.”

In other action Monday, board members:

•          Approved Jan. 8 as the makeup day for the day of school missed because of Tropical Storm Gordon. Dillon said other days during the fall had been considered, but ruled out because many families had made vacation plans and other appointments during that time. October and November also are Average Daily Attendance months, where daily absences are counted against the district in monies received from the state.

•          Voted to deny bids for work on air conditioning units at Petal High School, as all the bids came back much higher than officials expected. Dillon said officials will look to work with in-house employees in order to cut down cost on the work.