FEMA to reevaluate funding for Chattanooga’s tornado-damaged Grace Baptist

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Construction at the site of Grace Baptist Academy continues in 2022. The school, which was destroyed during the April 2020 tornado, is being hosted by Morris Hill Baptist Church until the campus is rebuilt.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Construction at the site of Grace Baptist Academy continues in 2022. The school, which was destroyed during the April 2020 tornado, is being hosted by Morris Hill Baptist Church until the campus is rebuilt.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will revalue the cost to rebuild tornado-damaged Grace Baptist Church and Academy after approving an appeal filed last December by the ministry that sought additional federal assistance.

The decision effectively overturned FEMA's originally assigned grant of around $30 million, which was less than what the ministry expected, Head of School Matthew Pollock said.

"We were just thrilled that they had taken the evidence we supplied and came to that conclusion," he said by phone Wednesday.

(READ MORE: Grace Baptist Academy Children's Center rebuilds after Easter tornadoes)

It's been more than three years since tornadoes destroyed the East Brainerd complex in April 2020, and Grace Baptist has faced a series of roadblocks in its effort to rebuild the campus.

Church and school officials broke ground for a new church and school in December 2020, but construction crews suspended work about a year later when funds the church had anticipated receiving from FEMA were delayed.

In December 2022, Grace Baptist officials appealed the amount FEMA had granted them earlier that month, providing additional evidence to support their belief that more funds were needed to rebuild the campus, Pollock said.

FEMA forwarded the project to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in June for a required third-party, expert cost analysis, according to an update on the church's website.

(READ MORE: Rebuilding work suspended at Chattanooga's tornado-damaged Grace Baptist)

In October, FEMA approved the appeal and said it was no longer necessary for the Army Corps of Engineers to provide a review. FEMA has not provided a timeline for when it will provide a new cost estimate, Pollock said.

"We're waiting again patiently, but they were very strong that the funding will go higher than the original one," he said.

Construction is anticipated to start shortly after the school secures funding from FEMA. Pollock said Tyson & Associates Construction Co., the project's contractor, has indicated it will return to the process as soon as the ministry secures funding.

Once construction starts, it'll take a minimum of six months before students can return to campus.

The school has held classes at Morris Hill Baptist Church, and the church congregation has met at Chattanooga First Seventh-day Adventist Church while the main campus is under construction. Despite the temporary campus, the school's enrollment has continued to increase for the past few years.

"Our Chattanooga area is a very positive and encouraging community, and we have felt that love," Pollock said. "We're never going to forget this, the way people have cared for us in our time of need. Never to be forgotten, always to be appreciated."

Contact Shannon Coan at scoan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

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