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August 14, 2013

Council denies safe room grant

GREENVILLE — The City of Greenville will not accept a grant to help pay for the construction of a community safe room/regional emergency operations center.

A vote concerning the grant, which the city applied for earlier this year, was scheduled as part of Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“We voted to deny it,” explained Mayor Steve Reid. “We don’t have the land for it and we do have the funds for the match for it.”

Whenever the City of Greenville builds a new Fire Station No. 1, it will likely also include a new administration building and an addition where residents can find shelter in the event of severe weather or other emergencies.

The city issued a request for qualifications for a “community safe room” project in March, seeking firms wanting to provide engineering and architectural services relating to the design and construction of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved facility.

The city has been hoping to land a FEMA grant since former Chief Kenny Ward was in office six years ago. Such “bricks and mortar” grants are available to build certain structures which meet certain federal criteria. According to the official description, a safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet FEMA criteria and provide “near-absolute protection” in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. Near-absolute protection means that, based on the current knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of a safe room built in accordance with FEMA guidance will have a very high probability of being protected from injury or death.

The community safe room would be included as part of a combined new Fire Station No. 1 and Fire Department Administration Building. At least a portion of the structure could also serve as a shelter for individuals and families who have nowhere else to go.

The grants were made available following the events of Hurricane Katrina, in order to assist communities in building facilities which could conceivably act as emergency shelters in the event of natural disasters and other emergencies.

City officials have wanted to replace the existing Fire Station No. 1 at 1901 Johnson Street and the current Fire Department Administration Building at 2603 Templeton Street. Fire Station No. 1 opened in 1953. The administration building is housed in the former Fire Station No. 3, which for years had sat vacant before being put to use when the Fire Department moved from the former Henson Building downtown. The project is expected to cost several million dollars for engineering and construction of the facility.

Earlier in the evening, during a discussion of the upcoming city budget, Interim City Manager/Director of Public Works Massoud Ebrahim recommended the Council find ways to rededicate portions of unused bond funds toward eventually paying for a new fire station/administration building.

“And try to acquire, one tract at a time, the land that they need,” Ebrahim said, adding the city should also investigate asking local corporations to contribute toward the project.

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