Work to build a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) shelter into Neosho High School is progressing, and initial ground work to prepare for similar structures will soon progress at the South and Carver elementary schools.

Tim Crawley, R-5 assistant superintendent for business and finance, said favorable weather has allowed crews to make good progress since the June 11 groundbreaking, though as with any project, workers have found some things that were not in the plans.

“We had to move a sewer line that was not in our original plan because we didn’t know that it was a straight line with no breaks or curves in it,” he said. “We jokingly say, for every 10 years the building has been up you have at least one thing that someone doesn’t remember that’s under the ground. Some of that building has been up since the ‘50s.”

When approved for a FEMA shelter, Crawley said the federal government generally pays for 75 percent of the project. Since the school district is adding to that shell to make classroom space at both the high school and at Carver, he said the federal government will pay for over half of the $8.8 million overall project.

“We’re getting 18 classrooms,” he said. “Those 18 classrooms are going to allow us to have a lot better use for teachers, for kids.”

Crawley said a plan was in place when he came to the district two years ago to add 12 classrooms to the back of the high school.

“Well, for that same amount of money that we would have gotten 12 classrooms, we’re going to get 18, plus a FEMA shelter.”

By constructing two stories, he said less square footage of ground space is needed for that amount of addition.

Explaining why the shelter is being constructed at that location, Crawley said three options were identified.

“We could either build it in the hillside by the football field, which is a long way to travel if you’re in the trailers at the south end. We could build it on the practice field, which still causes you to have to send kids outside in a storm to get protection from the storm. Or, you could add it to the front,” he said.

Crawley said placing the shelter at the back of the school was not an option, as that is in a flood plain.

“If you’ve ever been in that building and had to get from the south end to the north end in a hurry, it’s a long, stretched out building,” he said. “I think it was extremely forward-thinking. It’s a very sensible option as to where it is located. Also, say you have a tornado emergency and you have the community coming in, you’ll want it right there in the front where the people can get to it.”  

He said the front entryway of that structure will be a secure entrance where the school resource officer will be located. Crawley said school security is constantly scrutinized, and though people now have to be buzzed-in to the building, extra security is being built into the facility.

Crawley said the construction at all three facilities is based on when the concrete pre-fabricated panels are completed and delivered. He said the panels will be made for the high school in September.

“So that is why work started there first. They start moving next week over at South, because at South, those panels will be there the end of September/ the first of October, and then for Carver they’ll actually make those panels in October,” he said.

Crawley said the high school is by far the most complicated and intricate of the three projects.

“It’s kind of a unique project,” he said. “It’s going to be one that not every school has. If you go to other schools, most FEMA shelters are a gym or a performing arts center. We kind of pushed the envelope a little bit – which I think is something they do in Neosho – because if you go to Davidson Hall (Crowder College), that’s what they did as well, so they were very forward thinking as well getting the most bang for the buck.”

Once excavation work is then completed at South, Crawley said Vaughn Excavation will move over to Carver to begin site prep work. He said the FEMA shelter will serve as a gym at South, and at Carver, five classrooms including two larger ones for art or music classes will be added.

He said since Branco Enterprises is the contractor for all three projects, they are able to seamlessly move their teams in succession from one site to the other.

“The plan is, all of them are supposed to be ready by March, so we are anticipating – without a bad winter and without delays and all that – but we are planning to be moving into them before the end of the school year,” Crawley said.

The improvements and addition will cause a change in logistics, especially at the high school.

Crawley explained, “The main effect is going to be on transportation and on parent student drop-off. We will lose the ability to drive in front of that building for most of the school year.”

He said they will at first attempt parent student drop-off at the back of the building. With the help of school security and law enforcement, Crawley said the lower parking lot by the football field will be utilized for bus loading.

“Anytime you have construction you have some growing pains, and that’s what we think is our best option right now,” he said. “We’re going to try it, and if it doesn’t work then we may come with another option.”

Crawley said the parking lot at South has been used as a through-street, and the Wayne St. entrance will be blocked off during construction at Oak Ridge Dr., so that you’ll only be able to get in from Neosho Boulevard and Wornell St., though he said emergency vehicles will have access at any time. Except for some parking, he said construction will not cause much inconvenience at Carver.