What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Thursday, July 12, 2007

FEMA funding for new schools in doubt

Ceremony held to transfer military base property


July 12, ,2007

HANCOCK COUNTY --Education officials are sweating out a pending decision from FEMA that could throw a dark cloud over plans for two new elementary schools.

"This has really put a challenge out there for us," School Superintendent David Kopf said Monday of plans to build new schools in the south and north county.

The schools are planned for the Lakeshore and Leetown communities to replace the old Gulfview and Charles B. Murphy schools in the south county and add a new school in the north. Murphy and Gulfview were closed after Hurricane Katrina and would be replaced with South Hancock Elementary in Lakeshore. The new Leetown school, which would be called West Hancock Elementary, is planned because of rapid growth in the north county since the hurricane.

Both projects have been thrown in doubt by a recent FEMA memo that said the federal agency may not help fund any new public projects located in coastal high hazard areas. The old Gulfview Elementary site, where the new South County Elementary would be built, is squarely in such a location.

A non-fund decision from FEMA would endanger both projects because they were contracted as a package deal, with the bulk of the funding coming from FEMA compensation for the loss of Gulfview and Charles B. Murphy. A contract to build the new schools already has been issued to Roy Anderson Corp. for nearly $33 million.

Kopf said the school system had been working with FEMA on the new schools project for months. Then came the bad-news memo.

"Then, 22 weeks after, we get this memo saying they would not fund," he said. "They dropped that bombshell in our lap."

The school system sought help from Gov. Haley Barbour, Sen. Trent Lott, Sen. Thad Cochran and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor. All have since been lobbying on the county's behalf to have the schools built with FEMA money. "We couldn't have asked for any more help," Kopf said.

Since the hurricane, students who previously attended Gulfview Elementary in the Lakeshore area and Charles B. Murphy in Pearlington have been bused for miles every school day. They have attended class in trailers behind Hancock Middle School, north of Interstate 10.

Kopf said he was communicating this week with Mike Womack, director of MEMA. Barbour has held discussions on the school funding with FEMA leaders in Washington.

Hopefully, a resolution may come soon, Kopf said. Until then, the futures of both new schools are suspended in doubt: "We're delayed on both fronts at this point."

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