The county has approved final steps to begin construction on a $4.2 million emergency shelter on Bolivar Peninsula, which will be built to withstand high-level hurricane winds. Officials anticipate it will be one of the strongest buildings along the Gulf Coast.

The county commissioners court last week unanimously approved an agreement with High Island school district to build the 9,500-square-foot building on its property, which the school will use as a gymnasium on a regular basis during nonemergency situations. If a storm or hurricane strikes the vulnerable peninsula, the building will be used as a base camp for emergency responders to distribute supplies and park vehicles, the first facility dedicated to this purpose, officials said. It also will serve as a point of re-entry onto the peninsula following a storm.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008, emergency responders described a chaotic scene on the peninsula. First responders primarily used Crenshaw Elementary and Middle School, but the Galveston school district building in Crystal Beach didn’t have a backup generator or a large parking lot for vehicles, Galveston County Emergency Management Coordinator Garret Foskit said.

“In an emergency situation, you play with the cards in your hand,” Foskit said. “No other building was available.”

Beaumont-based SETEX Construction Corp. will begin work in March, and the project is expected to take one year. All construction costs will be funded by federal funds in response to Hurricane Ike. The building will be constructed in the 2100 block of 6th Street on land owned by the High Island school district. The location has the highest elevation in the county, Community Development Block Grant Project Coordinator Nick Foster said. It will include diesel backup generators and an on-site septic system, Foster said.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Foster said. “It’s going to be a big benefit.”

Although the county awarded the bid about a year ago, construction was delayed while the county and the school district finalized an agreement to acquire the land and determine uses for the building.

Officials stressed the building is not intended to be an emergency shelter in cases of a mandatory evacuation because first responders will not be staged at the location through powerful hurricanes. The construction company predicts it will be the strongest building on the Gulf Coast, said Commissioner Ryan Dennard, whose precinct includes Bolivar Peninsula. The building will be beneficial to the county and the school district, Dennard said.

“It’s not just going to be sitting there stale,” Dennard said. “It’s a small school district. Them being able to have a nice facility to use on a daily basis is terrific.”

Contact reporter Chacour Koop at 409-683-5241 or chacour.koop@galvnews.com.

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