The McDonald County R-1 School District is asking voters to approve a $5.5 million bond issue this April, to assist in funding the construction of FEMA shelters at at least two district campuses.
Dr. Mark Stanton, superintendent of the McDonald County school district, said if approved, the bond issue would not raise taxes for McDonald County voters, though it would extend the debt service payment, already existing, for approximately nine years. Though, he said that time period is not concrete, and the payments could take less time.
“We applied for and received a grant through FEMA and secured two sites already to build a gym and classrooms at Southwest City and Pineville,” Stanton said.
He said the district has also applied for a FEMA grant to build a similar FEMA shelter at the McDonald County High School campus in Anderson, though they are still waiting to hear back on that grant application.
Stanton said he expects news on the high school FEMA grant to come “any time.”
If awarded, Stanton said the plan at the high school would be to use the safe room as a performing arts, multi-use facility.
The district also wants to use the bond proceeds to fund the addition of a 23,000 square-foot vocational agriculture workshop to be added onto the Vo-Ag building at the high school.
It is not uncommon for school FEMA shelters to serve other purposes, Stanton noted.
He said the McDonald County school district has begun working with architects from Paragon Architecture, of Springfield, though drawings are preliminary at this point.
He said the intent is to provide a safe place for students and nearby community members to go in the case of severe weather, while also fulfilling additional facility needs for students.
“When the safe room money became available, we wanted to apply, especially with what we saw in Joplin,” Stanton said. “This is a very positive thing for our students and communities.”
While the high school addition is still up in the air, the FEMA funds have already been allotted for Southwest City and Pineville projects.
At those campuses, the shelters would serve not only as a safe room, but also provide three to four additional classrooms and a new gymnasium.
Stanton said the two existing gymnasiums were constructed in the late 1970s and that the schools are in need of the upgrade.
“These gyms are past their life expectancy,” he said.
Stanton said the FEMA grants would pay for 75 percent of FEMA shelter construction, with a 25 percent local match.
In addition to serving students, he said the safe rooms would also be open to the public and are designed to fit the student population in addition to all community members within five minutes of the site.
“Everybody’s in favor of building safe places for kids,” Stanton said. “The whole thing is about stretching the dollar as far as we possibly can.”
Voters will decide on the bond issue when it appears on the April 2 ballot in this spring’s general municipal election.
This is the first bond issue presented to McDonald County voters under Stanton’s leadership.
In 2006, after four failed attempts, McDonald County voters approved a $15 million bond issue, which funded the construction of the Anderson Middle School, as well as additions at White Rock Elementary, McDonald County High School, Pineville, Southwest City Elementary, and Noel.