The Meridian Star
MERIDIAN — Special to the Star
Officials are considering moving the location of a new safe room to be constructed in Lauderdale County with federal dollars.
Plans were to build the safe room at the Lauderdale County Agri-Center on Highway 19 South, but now college and county officials are hoping to locate it on the Meridian Community College campus.
MCC’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday voted unanimously to support the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors’ efforts to construct the centrally located safe room shelter for area citizens. The approximate $3 million project would be funded through the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) with a minimal in-kind contribution from the county, according to Josh Todd, president of the Board of Supervisors. Lauderdale County was approved for a $3.2 million safe room grant in 2012.
The 15,000-square foot safe room, which would include restroom facilities, backup generators, a kitchenette, a receiving area and a large open room, would hold as many as 1,000 persons in a tornado event, Todd noted. Prospectively, it would be located adjacent to the MCC soccer pitch in close proximity to the college’s residence halls.
MCC trustees – Tommy Dulaney, Ralph Young, Alex Weddington and John Johnson - voted to support the project contingent on a favorable opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office, enabling the college to deed the land on which the building would be constructed over to Lauderdale County.
“This project is a win-win,” Todd said. “It’s a win for the county in securing a safe room which could shelter a goodly number of local residents in the event of a major weather event. It’s a win for MCC in that the building could serve as a safe room to which students could be quickly located if something like a tornado alert were to occur. And, finally, it’s a win for the community because when the building is not being utilized as a shelter, it can be used for a variety of purposes such as community and campus meetings and events.”
MCC President Dr. Scott Elliott said that supporting the project is a “no brainer” for the college.
“Right now, whenever we have a weather event on campus, we’re kind of scrambling to move students to the center of hallways or to the few basement facilities that we have,” Elliott said. “With a safe room that can serve as many as 1,000 people, MCC would be able to offer its students a much safer and secure environment. Also, we have so many events on campus that sometimes we run out of meeting spaces. This building would greatly enhance the college from that perspective, as well.”
The county is working with Terrell Temple of Engineering Plus in the development of the project. Temple called the project a “slam dunk.”
“No matter what kind of project you typically get involved in,” Temple said, “there’s usually an upside and a downside. In the case of this project, I truly fail to see the downside. The building will be located in close proximity to the interstate such that displaced people can access it conveniently. Also, in terms of maintaining and utilizing the facility, MCC has been in the business of hosting campus and community events and maintaining buildings for several generations. So, in my estimation, this will be a very positive partnership between the county, MEMA and MCC.
Elliott noted that MCC is already a designated MEMA shelter. MCC’s gymnasium was air-conditioned several years ago and multiple generators were installed on campus through a FEMA/MEMA grant. In return, the college agreed to serve as a shelter through the use of its gymnasium, fitness center and cafeteria.
“MCC already stands prepared to assist displaced persons through its designation as a state shelter,” Elliott said. “If the Red Cross calls upon us, we’ll be ready to serve. This safe room project will only enhance MCC’s capacity to assist in case of an emergency.”
Todd said the County’s contribution to the project would likely involve asphalt work, such as parking facilities and an access drive.
"I don't know if we could have picked a better spot than right there," Todd said.
There is a lot of paperwork to do, involving FEMA and MEMA, to change the location, but Todd is optimistic that the change will be approved.
The MCC location lies in District 4, which is represented by Joe Norwood.
"I think it will be a perfect marriage if we can put it there. You think of the number of students on campus there and at the Mississippi State branch," Norwood said. "There are some senior citizen's homes there within walking distance. I think it will be a perfect fit for what it was intended to be."
MCC Board Chairman Tommy Dulaney has directed college attorney John Compton seek an Attorney General’s opinion on the legality of deeding the property over to the County as a next step in bringing the project to fruition.