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Dirt moving for new Pope School; project hits snag with delayed FEMA funding

There’s good news for the Pope School construction project on Ashport Road.

The process of moving dirt for the new building officially began next week.

But Cary Henson, owner of Henson Construction, and Eric Dunn, the superintendent of the project, warned the Jackson-Madison County School Board during its work session on July 10 of a couple of issues.

One is the safe room that’s planned for the school.

If a safe room that’s reinforced near the center of a building that can be a shelter during severe weather is part of the building plan, FEMA will have grant funding for that building.

A safe room is planned for the new Pope, and Henson has applied for the grant. Unfortunately, they have not been approved for the grant. And because the grant requires that no work be done on the land where the safe room will be, the construction can’t move dirt where the safe room will be until the grant is officially approved.

So when Henson and Dunn were showing drone pictures of the land to show progress over the past week, a rectangle of undisturbed land stayed in the middle of the area as dirt was moved all around it.

Henson said there’s no indication of when the grant will be approved. He said the grant application is sent to TEMA, who approves it and sends it to FEMA. FEMA then needs to approve it, let TEMA know and TEMA will disperse the funding.

“From what we’ve been told, our application is on the desk of the last person that needs to see it to approve it in FEMA,” Henson told the board. “We’re trying back channels and connections in TEMA to try to speed the process along, but right now, we’re at their mercy right now.”

Henson said that another concern is since they’re not able to disturb the land, there are erosion and runoff concerns as well as concerns about keeping the land level around the saferoom and working around the area.

Henson brought a second concern to the board that their neighbor, Augustine School, has built a couple of outdoor classrooms on the edge of their property, which is to the north of Pope on Old Humboldt Road, and actually encroaches the property line by a few feet.

“We’re pretty sure we can do our work and not disturb one of the areas, and we’ll try to not disturb the other one, but that one is further over and will be more difficult to avoid,” Henson said. “But if we can keep from disturbing anything, we will.

“That’s more of an issue for [the school board] to handle. If y’all tell me to destroy, I will, but that’s not my call.”

Both Henson and present board members said they wanted to try to be good neighbors first and try to work with Augustine if at all possible. But there’s also the issue of legal liabilities to JMCSS if someone were to get hurt on one of Augustine’s outdoor areas on their property. There will be further discussion about that issue in future meetings.

A few other items from the update:

  • Henson said there’s a possibility of an alternate exit for the property toward Old Humboldt Road near the Masonic Lodge with a part of its property that appears to be seldom used.
  • Three detention ponds have been dug on the property, and those ponds will remain on the property once the school is finished. Fences will be put up around them to discourage children jumping in them.
  • Bids for the main building project are set to be open on Aug. 24. Henson expects a good bit of participation in the bids for the project.
  • Nothing has progressed in offsite improvements for the project, which is widening Ashport Road and Old Humboldt Road to try to alleviate traffic congestion once the school moves down the street from its current location at the intersection of the roads. About $500,000 was budgeted to widen Ashport with a turn lane in front of the school, but the City Board of Zoning Appeals recommended widening both roads at the intersection and lengthening the turn lane on Old Humboldt at the Bypass plus installing a roundabout at the intersection of Ashport and Pleasant Plains Road.

Henson is still confident in being able to have the school ready to go before its deadline of July of 2025.

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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