Fayette County storm shelter near completion

In 2009, Fayette County leaders rolled out a plan to build 14 safe rooms throughout the county to be opened in times of severe weather. Now five years later, some are wondering why those safe rooms still are not complete. County administrator John Gordon says construction for the safe rooms was supposed to take one year.

The good news is just a couple of steps remain to be finished before the rooms are ready. And this time Gordon says the deadline will be met.

"The commissioners have long desired to do something positive for the county and we're very excited that this project is nearing completion," he said.

By May 31st, fourteen safe rooms will be ready for use. From that day forward, any time a tornado watch is issued, the rooms will open to the public. Each can hold 50 people. One is located near each of Fayette county's fourteen volunteer fire stations.

It's been a long time getting to this point.

"It's been a tremendous learning experience. There have been a lot of lessons learned."

Gordon says the idea for storm shelters surfaced after county leaders saw the damage inflicted by hurricane Katrina in 2005. The county applied for funding through FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, and got approved for 900,000 dollars.

Bids were made, a contractor chosen and construction began, as did the problems. "Sure, some mistakes were made a long the way, but those mistakes have been corrected now," said Gordon.

By 2012 the county was already beyond the deadline for completion. The state Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers raised concerns about the overall design. Gordon says a contentious relationship developed between county leaders and the contractor. By then, it was apparent to people living in Fayette that there were problems. "Regardless of what some folks might think, commissioners have been very involved in this project. We've tried every way we know to do things as expeditiously as possible."

To avoid slowing the process further, Gordon says the county allowed the contractors to restructure the rooms and finish most of the job, just leaving the doors to be complete. Those were left for the county to handle. {}{}{} New doors are being installed on every shelter in Fayette County and engineers are making sure the doors open outward. Once these doors are complete the project will be final. Gordon is confident this time around FEMA, the Alabama Manufactured Housing Commission and the{} Licensure for Professional Engineers will give approval to the safe rooms. "We will have them certified FEMA 361 compliant by may 31st. It's been a difficult road but we're excited the road is coming to an end," said Gordon.