Materials cost pushes Bloomington safe room to $2.9 million

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 24, 2013 at 2:24 a.m.

Construction crews work on building a steel-reinforced concrete dome next to Bloomington Elementary School. Since work began in May, the estimated total building cost for the project has grown by 500,000.

Construction crews work on building a steel-reinforced concrete dome next to Bloomington Elementary School. Since work began in May, the estimated total building cost for the project has grown by 500,000.   Sarah Ganzhorn for The Victoria Advocate

Not even the U.S. Air Force's 5,000 pound bunker-buster bomb can collapse steel-reinforced concrete domes like the one being built in Bloomington.

After breaking ground in May, the $2.4 million hurricane safety room has already gone $500,000 above the original budget set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Delores Warnell, Bloomington superintendent, said if FEMA approves the extra cost, the school will be responsible for $725,000 - or a quarter of the now $2.9 million project.

When there is not a hurricane threat, the 18,385 square-foot dome will double as a gymnasium for the school district.

"They recognize that we really can't build a safe room for $120 a square foot," Warnell said. "When we bid ours, it came back at $158 a square foot."

Warnell said the school district already set aside more than $1 million for the project.

Michael Ku, a mitigation specialist with Texas Division of Emergency Management, said his office has not officially received the request for additional funding.

However, he said most projects cost between $130 and $160 per square foot.

"This was funded from Hurricane Ike, and the data was based on a 2010 construction cost," Ku said. "We've had several disasters since then, and material costs have increased."

Even with the higher cost, the domes remain cost-effective, he said.

The energy industry, along with the tornados in Oklahoma and other recent natural disasters, has driven up the cost of concrete, Ku said.

"We're keeping a close eye on the cost," he said.

FEMA only funds what is required to support a functional safe room. Any extra plans for the facility - such as the gymnasium Bloomington plans - are not federally funded.

Construction on the Bloomington dome began May 13 and is expected to take 11 months.

Once complete, the structure will be able to withstand 250 mph winds, said Maria Hahn, ABC Domes Texas account manager.

The dome starts with an air form, the outer-skin of the structure, and is blown up like a balloon and then sprayed with several inches of polyurethane foam to create the shell. The balloon-phase is expected to happen in mid-August.

Then, the first layer of shotcrete, a 4,000-PSI high-pressured concrete applied through a nozzle, is sprayed on. After a mat of rebar, another layer of shotcrete is added and built up to about eight inches, Hahn said.

"They're not shelters; they're safe rooms," she said.

The purpose is to house first-responders and people who cannot be evacuated, such as hospital or nursing home patients. If the county chooses to use it as a shelter, that becomes an area decision.

Woodsboro, the first Crossroads community to construct a safety dome, is already using the facility as a gymnasium for the school district.

Ku said FEMA is in the process of closing the project to make sure all the state and federal requirements have been filled.

Warnell said the the process has been emotional.

Before forest fires put a moratorium on the funding, the district was told they had a green light.

"We were put on hold for about four months," Warnell said.

Now, the cost has increased, and the moratorium lifted. Warnell said even if the district cannot afford to outfit the gym, it will move forward outfitting the safe room.

"The safe room is great for the community and it's going to be great for our kids to have a new facility, especially if we can outfit the gym," Warnell said.

In the meantime, the district is installing a new running track and continuing to upgrade the facilities.

"We are committed to doing the safe room," she said. "We may not get everything we want for the gym right now. If the state gives us the additional money, we'll have enough to do the safe room and the gym."



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