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County seeks federal funds to build gym-shelter


Pitt County commissioners hope to obtain federal funding to build a gymnasium at Alice F. Keene Park that could also serve as an emergency shelter.


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pitt County wants to build a gymnasium that can double as an emergency shelter. The Board of Commissioners is hoping the federal government will make it happen.

The North Carolina Division of Emergency Management is seeking two types of mitigation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and wants local governments to submit plans.

During its Monday meeting, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to give County Manager Scott Elliott authority to send a letter of interest outlining the project.

The county is seeking $4 million, the maximum amount, from the federal pre-disaster mitigation fund to build a gymnasium-community center at Alice F. Keene Park that would also serve as a shelter-safe room, said Planning Director James Rhodes.

“We did get notice back from the state, and the state is encouraging Pitt County to move forward,” Rhodes said. The structure would ensure a shelter that isn’t connected to the school system is available.

“After Hurricane Matthew, schools to a certain extent were delayed in reopening because people were still be housed in those areas,” Rhodes said. The property at Keene Park was used by FEMA to established emergency housing following the flooding brought on by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

It’s estimated the project would cost $6 million, Rhodes said. Pitt County would need to contribute $2 million toward the project, which would more than cover the county’s required 25 percent match, Rhodes said. Staff will apply for other grants, specifically a state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant, to offset some of that cost.

County Manager Scott Elliott said the board would have to seek a loan for any amount not covered by grants. He said commissioners should not draw from the fund balance because it would drop below the recommended 18 percent of the county’s total budget.

Rhodes said part of the structure would be reinforced to use as a safe room during tornadic activity. Rhodes said 36,000 people live within five miles of Keene Park. While the gym safe room couldn’t hold that many people, most people will want to stay home, he said. The facility would be available to surrounding residents of mobile homes and to residents of student housing.

This is an opportunity to get a gym and community center on site as well as a shelter and safe room,” Rhodes said.

Commissioner Jimmy Garris asked if applying for the grant committed the county to accepting it. Garris said he was uncomfortable committing to a grant if the county had to fund $2 million. Garris said even getting a $500,000 recreation grant would be helpful.

The board also advised commissioners to send letter of interests to secure $100,000 for an update of the regional hazard mitigation plan, which expires in 2020, and $50,000 to purchase two river gauges.

One gauge would be located at N.C. 222 Tar River Bridge and the other would be along Contentnea Creek near Grifton.

Rhodes said the gauges, which would be maintained by the state once in place, would provide better data for calculating flood levels.

These grants also require a 25 percent match in local dollars or in-kind assistance.

In other business, the board voted unanimously to appoint assistant finance director Chris McDaniel as interim finance director.

McDaniel, an East Carolina University graduate, will oversee the county’s fiscal operations but will not serve in the deputy county manager position.

McDaniel is replacing Duane Holder, who left to become assistant county manager in Cumberland County.

McDaniel joined Pitt County government in 1999.

Elliott recognized the former commissioner Glenn Bowen who died Thursday at the age of 80.

“We want to let the family know they are in our thoughts and prayers and we really appreciated his service on this board,” Elliott said.

McLawhorn also asked for thoughts and prayers to individuals and communities who have survived Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The commissioners gave their consent to a plan to host a Dec. 5 forum on opioid addiction. Elliott said the goal is is to livestream the event and then broadcast it on the county’s government channel, Suddenlink channel 13.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.