After grant denied, Morgan continues search for shelter money
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
Morgan County’s plans for a large storm shelter in front of the county jail took a hit when the federal grant application was recently denied, but county officials said the project is far from dead.
“We’re certainly not abandoning the project,” said Brandy Davis, Morgan County Emergency Management Agency director. “We’re still looking at funding options. That same grant has reopened. They have goals set in the grant. If the project does still fit those goals, we will reapply.”
County Commission Chairman Ray Long said the project might qualify under the American Rescue Plan Act, which has Morgan County receiving $23 million.
The county applied for the Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant in December to build an estimated $1.2-million community storm shelter, designed to hold more than 400 individuals.
“It was a competitive grant,” Long said. “We knew there was a possibility we wouldn’t receive it, but this shelter is something we want for our people, and we will continue to look for ways to pay for it.
“We will see if the storm shelter qualifies under the Rescue Plan, and we’ll have to see how much money we have left.”
It will likely be three or four months before the county will know if the storm shelter project is eligible for the federal rescue money, Long said.
The top priorities for the rescue money are pandemic bonuses for county employees; new ventilation for the six floors of the courthouse; and a waiting room for about 100 patrons at the Cotaco Park entrance of the courthouse, he said.
Those projects are estimated to have a total cost of about $10 million.
“We’re looking at a couple of other grants,” Davis said, adding her department expects to apply for at least one before the end of the year.
Davis said plans call for the shelter to be built on county property along Lee Street between the Raymond James Investment building and the driveway to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office and jail.
The BRIC grant would have covered 75 percent of the cost of the project, with the remaining 25% picked up by the county.
The initial total cost estimate for the project is $1,178,954, with the county’s portion about $295,000.
District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark said if money becomes available for the shelter his District 1 shop could offer some in-kind services such as building prep work.
Davis said the shelter also would house office space and storage of EMA equipment, such as protective equipment and tents. “Presently, EMA storage is scattered throughout the county,” she said.
The hallway in the courthouse basement is used as a community storm shelter when tornado watches and warnings are issued by the National Weather Service in Huntsville, and the city’s two high schools can be used as public shelters when school is not in session.
“This shelter is something we want to accomplish for the community,” Davis said.