Fed steps in to fund Victoria safe shelter at St. Joseph High

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

May 6, 2013 at 12:06 a.m.
Updated May 7, 2013 at 12:07 a.m.

A private Victoria school's multimillion dollar gymnasium project will move forward with the help of federal funding.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Monday that St. Joseph High School will receive $2.3 million to build a gym which will double as a community safe room.

Bill McArdle Jr., St. Joseph principal and president, said it could be two to three months before they dig shovels in the ground. The next step is meeting with a FEMA representative to fine-tune the facility's plans.

"This puts us in a position to contribute to the greater community," McArdle said.

The grant covers 75 percent of the total project cost, which is $3.1 million.

The remainder will be covered by donations from families, alumni and friends of St. Joseph High School, McArdle said.

Jacqueline Sue Aguigui Chandler, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the federal share of the funds comes from the agency's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

This portion came from the Texas wildfire disaster, she said.

"The hazard mitigation grants can be used for just about anything," Chandler said. "FEMA provides the funding, and the state administers it. For the last couple of years, the movement has been to build these community safe rooms."

The program provides grants to states and tribal and area governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures that reduce the loss of life and property caused by natural disasters. It also serves to enable mitigation measures that will be implemented in disaster recovery.

The stand-alone, 20,000-square-foot safe room on the St. Joseph High School campus will provide protection from hurricanes, tropical storms and tornadoes for the residents of Victoria County and is accessible for people with disabilities, according to a FEMA news release.

Once the new facility is built, the school plans to renovate the existing gym into a fine arts center named after longtime teacher David Pozzi, McArdle said.

The school originally requested a grant for a $2.4 million project. The federal agency agreed to increase the funding to keep in line with increases in construction costs.

"This will enable us to do the things to ensure there's a bright future for the students at St. Joseph High School," McArdle said.

In anticipation of the grant, the school approached Victoria's elected leaders about closing a block of DeLeon Street in front of the school, which the city agreed to.

Unless there is an issue with construction that would call for closing the street, McArdle said the intention is to keep it open as long as possible.

"We'll let our neighbors know as we move forward what steps we're taking to complete where we need to be," McArdle said. "We want to continue to work to be the best neighbors we can."



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