PBJHS safe room grant jump-starts R-I facilities plan
Posted on 02/25/2013

The Poplar Bluff R-I School District has been awarded a $132,000 federal grant, 75 percent toward the cost of designing a tornado safe room at the Junior High.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set aside another $1.1 million for the construction of the building, funding that will be made available after the construction documents are submitted a year from the phase one approval date of Jan. 29, according to school leaders.

“This is an awesome step forward in keeping our kids safe during the school day,” exclaimed Junior High Principal Bob Case, “and I’m excited about the opportunity to be able to add classrooms for the projected increase in student population over the next three to 10 years.”

A demographics study released last year by Business Information Services—headquartered in Blue Springs—predicts that the district will grow by 625 students over the next decade. The community has expressed support for the school addressing its space issues in the near future, according to a recent public survey conducted by Patron Insight, a Kansas City-based market research organization.

Architect Ben Traxel of Dille & Traxel, an adviser to the school’s Long-Range Planning Committee, helped facilitate the writing of the FEMA grant pro bono. Traxel said his firm plans to submit a request for qualifications to design the safe room. RFQs are due March 12 for the school board’s review at their regularly scheduled meeting the following week.

“This is the town we grew up in and the school where our kids go, so this is the type of work we really feel fortunate to be able to do,” said Traxel, whose company was involved in a smaller renovation of the Junior High in recent years, as well as the construction of the state-of-the-art Kindergarten Center on PP Highway.

Last month, Dille & Traxel was hired to consult with Ittner Architects as well as Jerry McCall Educational Consulting Service, collectively charged with developing a facilities plan for the entire district. Community input on the plan will be solicited this summer.

“We’re in the middle of figuring out our needs right now, including upgrading the school’s security in general, so the timing is going to work out really well for this FEMA project,” Traxel pointed out. “Right now it’s time to take a step back and let the planning run its course, so we can make sure we’re on the right path with regard to our priorities.”

The safe room is currently “penciled in” behind the Junior High campus, R-I Superintendent Chris Hon stated during last week’s board meeting. Due to the specifications for the facility, dictated by the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the multi-purpose room will likely serve as a cafeteria or gymnasium, similar to the safe room at O’Neal Elementary, designed with the ability to add floors on top of the structure.

There are presently four separate lunch periods offered at PBJHS, and Case said he is hoping the new space allows for that time to be cut in half so teachers have more flexibility with class scheduling. The current cafeteria may be converted into additional classrooms.

The school’s match for the safe room would total $295,000, including the $44,000 for design fees and management. The project must be completed within 30 months. Rod Priest, assistant superintendent of business/finance, noted that other safe rooms at a cost of 25 cents on the dollar are also being explored throughout the district.

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