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WISD blazed a trail for FEMA domes
by Kenda Nelson
Nov 22, 2012 | 1920 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The proposed site for a dome to be constructed on the Refugio High School practice field was nixed by Stan Upton, emergency management coordinator. Upton said evacuees passing down U.S.77 would be tempted to stop and seek shelter. Another site being considered is county property behind the Elementary School on property belonging to the county.
The proposed site for a dome to be constructed on the Refugio High School practice field was nixed by Stan Upton, emergency management coordinator. Upton said evacuees passing down U.S.77 would be tempted to stop and seek shelter. Another site being considered is county property behind the Elementary School on property belonging to the county.
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REFUGIO — Following Hurricane Ike, the Federal Emergency Management Agency set aside $51 million under the Texas Safe Shelter Initiative in 2008 for communities to build shelters from Sabine Pass to Brownsville.

Woodsboro ISD blazed a trail for other communities with a proposal to build a monolithic all-purpose dome.

“Domes weren’t new but the concept for FEMA was new,” said Steven Self, Woodsboro ISD superintendent.

WISD’s dome has had an influx of visitors as more communities are motivated to construct domes that can withstand winds of 320 mph.

The superintendent has no regrets about the dome. The district only had to pay for flooring, seating and the scoreboard.

“The ISD’s energy bill is about $500 per month for a 19,000 square foot building,” Self said. “The dome’s price tag was cheaper than a standard gymnasium.”

Fans at volleyball and basketball games have nothing short of praise for the stadium seating.

Another grant provided solar panels so the meter runs backward much of the time, Self said.

Today, like WISD, most of the domes that have or will be built to have multi-purposes, housing gymnasiums and community centers.

Twenty-one counties or cities have planned dome projects including Jackson, Liberty, Chambers, Tyler, Kleberg, Nueces, Matagorda, Newton, Victoria and Willacy counties; and the cities of Kountze, Lumberton, San Juan, Mission, Mercedes, Edinburg, Pharr, Rio Hondo, Los Fresnos, La Feria and Brownsville.

With the latest storms targeting the East Coast and Florida, more FEMA funding will more likely go there.

After Woodsboro progressed with their plans, Refugio County considered applying for a grant, but did not.

Stan Upton, emergency management coordinator, said the county didn’t have funding.

The county never asked to house the Emergency Operations Center in the dome.

“Had we planned it, the architect could have drawn that in,” Self said “There would have been no obstacle if we had had communication on it.”

The county EOC never asked for a space in the dome but Dupont did.

The school board voted its approval earlier this year to allow first responders from Dupont to shelter in the dome. Bobby Blaschke, who heads up the EOC at the plant made the proposal.

Upton said the county is an evacuation city so he and the judge and took a different mind set.

“We were still going to be evacuating,” he said. “We looked at it pretty vigorously, but couldn’t come up with the money, The school district was in a legal battle with construction companies and the county also had a financial situation at the time.”

The emergency manager and the county judge have since changed their minds.

As late at 2010, funding was still available.

Earlier this month, Judge Rene Mascorro proposed a multi-purpose dome for the EOC and Refugio ISD.

Mascorro suggested funding through certificates of obligation. Engineers are currently drawing up plans for the proposed dome but nothing is written in stone as yet.

When the plans are complete, the judge will begin scheduling town hall meetings across the county.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.

Upton said the dome being planned is larger than Woodsboro’s dome and will be used for emergency vehicles including fire engines and ambulances. Currently they are being driven out of the county for safekeeping.

So far, 72 protesters called a town hall meeting at the WISD dome and spoke out at the commissioners court meeting earlier this month.

Commissioner Gary Bourland said the grant through FEMA was never taken to the commissioners court.

“I never heard of any of that,” he said.
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