GEMA spokesman Ken Davis said Friday that the Clarkdale site has been deemed by FEMA to be outside the 100-year flood plane and therefore able to be rebuilt on. The decision to rebuild a school on that site, Davis said, is now up to the school district.
"The current structure is definitely outside of the 100-year flood plane," Davis said. "But again, the September flood was of epic proportions."
Superintendent Fred Sanderson said the district is disappointed about FEMA's findings, but that he will still recommend the school be built on the alternative site adjacent to Cooper Middle School.
"We are disappointed in the preliminary opinion issued by FEMA, but we will not recommend to the school board rebuilding on the original site," Sanderson said in an e-mail on Friday. "The proposal for the Cooper Middle School campus is very viable and we plan to move forward."
District officials have already presented plans for a new school on the Cooper site to the board and the Clarkdale community. But at the board meeting on Wednesday, the district said it was still waiting to hear from FEMA regarding rebuilding on the current site. District leaders feared that if FEMA deemed the current site adequate for rebuilding, and the board voted to rebuild at the Cooper site, the district would receive significantly lower funding from FEMA, than the $1.5 million they hoped for.
Davis said funding from the federal and state disaster funds would be slightly lower should the district decide to rebuild on an alternative site. Davis said once FEMA assesses the building and establishes how much the school was worth before the flood, federal and state assistance funds usually make up 85 percent of what insurance didn't cover to build a new school on that site.
Associate superintendent, Dr. Gordon Pritz said the district expects to receive about $6 million from its flood insurance. Should the board vote to rebuild on Cooper, federal and state funds would only cover up to 85 percent of the county's insurance deductible. Davis believes that the district's deductible is $1 million. Any additions or upgrades to the school would be out of the district's pocket.
Davis also said that if the district were to rebuild on the current site that the cost to raze the property could possibly be covered by FEMA.
District leaders told the Journal Thursday that they were prepared to move forward should the district receive reduced funding from FEMA. Doug Shepard, who oversees the district's SPLOST program, estimated the district's plan for a new 61-classroom school would cost $18 million. Shepard said the district has adequate funding to proceed with the Clarkdale replacement school, and plans to use money from both SPLOST II and SPLOST III that was budgeted for "undesignated classrooms."
During the district's Feb. 2 meeting with the Clarkdale community, the district received an overwhelming response from parents to rebuild on a different site. Board member David Morgan, who represents the Clarkdale area, said he heard from many parents who don't want any chance of another flooded school.
Sanderson said he plans to schedule a meeting with FEMA to discuss what he calls the "preliminary opinion."
"The powerful images of the school completely under water last fall should be all the evidence we need that rebuilding on that site is simply not a reasonable option," Sanderson said.