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story.lead_photo.caption The South Callaway R-2 School District met Tuesday evening. Photo by Olivia Garrett / News Tribune.

MOKANE, Mo. — Cost concerns stand in the way of the South Callaway R-2 School District's chances of securing a grant to build a safe room.

The South Callaway Board of Education failed Tuesday to move forward with the project by selecting an architect or grant writer.

The grant, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would cover 75 percent of the costs of constructing a 7,800-square-foot room secure enough to withstand a tornado.

"Then we'd have the ability as a school district to use that facility however we want — it could be a multipurpose room," Superintendent Kevin Hillman said.

In December, the board voted 6-1 to seek out requests for qualifications and proposals. They received responses from four architecture firms and two grant writers.

Tuesday's meeting was supposed to take place Feb. 12 but was postponed due to poor weather. Two board members, Micah Benningfield and Brent Woods, could not make it to this week's rescheduled meeting.

For a motion to pass, it needs a vote of support from at least four members. With only five members in attendance Tuesday, the chances of the board going forward with the FEMA safe room were slimmer than usual.

"I regretted last time that I voted yes for the RFQ and the RFP," board member Janice Howard said. "I am not in favor of doing the FEMA safe room. I know it's a good deal — I mean anytime you spend 25 cents on the dollar, I think that's a big deal — but we've got so much other stuff coming down the pike that I am not going to be in favor of proceeding any further."

Board member Penny Felkner agreed.

"In good conscience, I don't see how we can be looking at something that's still going to cost us potentially up to a million dollars when we know we have all of these other expenses that are maintenance that have to be taken care of," Felkner said.

Hillman noted the district estimates it would have spent closer to $500,000 on the safe room.

"I'm comfortable enough with where we are right now to explore the possibility of this," Hillman said. "It's taken us two and a half years to get to this."

Other budget concerns also came up in the discussion. Howard brought up uncertainty concerning the sewer system. The city of Mokane's water and sewer system has been rated one of the worst in the area.

"Two things that just scare me is the sewer, because it's an unknown and we don't get to control that, and what's going on with the wages," Hillman said. "Guys, again, we don't get to control that. Both of those are big ticket items."

There are efforts at the state level to raise teacher salaries, which would significantly increase costs for school districts. On the issue of the sewers, Mokane is working on plans to update the aging system. Should it struggle to secure funding, some costs might fall on the school district.

This uncertainty is what concerns Felkner — going forward with pursuing a grant writer or architect would have cost the district money, even if they never got the grant.

"If we have to do the sewer system and then we've done this, then we've just chucked dollars in the trash," Felkner said.

Howard questioned the merits of needing a tornado shelter in the first place.

"I do not think we need more buildings, and I do not think we need a building to house more sporting equipment," Howard said, referencing one proposed use of a safe room. "And as for the safe room for the community, if it's a tornado, how many people are going to get in a car and drive up here to go into a safe room? It's not in a town. They'd have to drive a mile to get up here from Mokane."

The district only recently learned it had moved on to the next stage of the FEMA grant application process.

If they still want the funds, they'll have to meet an April deadline.

After Tuesday's board meeting, that seems less likely — Hillman doesn't believe the district has a shot at getting the grant money without the help of a grant writer.

If at some point in the future the board reconsiders the issue of a FEMA safe room, the district would have to completely restart the application process.

"It's not dead, but it is not moving forward," Hillman said.

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