More than two dozen storm shelters going up in Jackson County

More than two dozen storm shelters going up in Jackson County

October 19th, 2013 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News

Alix Gillies of Safe-T-Shelter, a community shelter construction company, helps to finish storm shelters on Wednesday in Bridgeport, Ala. The shelters were funded by a federal grant in the wake of the April 2011 tornadoes that left eight Jackson County residents dead.

Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press.

Two tornado shelters with room for at least 100 people are almost completed in Bridgeport, Ala., among the latest of 25 such facilities planned across Jackson County.

"We've got two, one on Fifth Street and one on Broadway," Bridgeport Mayor David "Bubba" Hughes said Friday.

Construction officials with the contractor on the Bridgeport sites, Safe-T-Shelter, said the storm-safe rooms were about 90 percent complete.

Those two shelters and two more planned at the town's elementary and middle schools will be open to the public and can hold 96 people seated on benches or between 130 and 150 if crowded in to fill all available space, Hughes said.

Emergency officials will keep keys to them so they can be opened quickly when they are needed, he said.

The super outbreak of tornadoes on April 27, 2011, produced four twisters that killed eight people in Jackson County and left hundreds of homes destroyed or uninhabitable.

In the wake of those storms, President Barack Obama declared the county an official disaster area. That made the county eligible for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Jackson County officials applied for aid almost immediately, county EMA Director Mike Ashburn said.

"We've got six completed so far," Ashburn said.

"We were awarded more than $3 million worth of storm shelters, not including Pisgah's," he said, noting that Pisgah officials successfully applied for grant funding themselves.

The grants fund shelters at all 17 county schools, plus three more in Stevenson, one each in the towns of Section, Paint Rock and Pisgah, and one each in two county parks. A total cost estimate can't be determined until all the projects are bid.

"The one in Section has already been installed, and there's three in Stevenson that are probably finished," Ashburn said Friday.

He said schools might have more than one shelter to hold the entire student body and staff, but they are counted as one site.

"We hope to have them all installed within 12 months," he said.

Hughes said Bridgeport's two town shelters cost about $59,000 apiece, but costs will be different for other shelters depending on the site and capacity requirements.

"We'd like to have some more," Hughes said. He said a third shelter the town applied for was denied for technical issues.

"It's a real benefit to the city," so town officials might look for a way to add another couple of shelters in the future, he said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.