MEMA weighs in on Chimney Square debate

Published 5:00 pm Thursday, November 29, 2007

If Pearl River County wants the full funding to replace the Chimney Square building, including cost overruns, it must be built at the original site of Chimney Square, said Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Womack in a telephone interview Wednesday .

Womack said that for Pearl River County to receive the full amount of the allocated Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, the funds would have to be used to build a building equivalent to the original Chimney Square.

“Currently, $4,904,060 is allocated in project funds for the Chimney Square project. That amount is an estimate of what FEMA thinks will be the cost to replace Chimney Square. If the board of supervisors builds a building that is the same size in the same location that serves the same function, then FEMA will pay the cost of the building,” Womack said. “For example, if the original building was 10,000 square feet, then FEMA will pay for that square footage to be rebuilt, whether the cost is $4.9 million or more.”

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The $4.9 million Womack gave is about $200,000 more than that quoted by County Manager Adrain Lumpkin. The additional funds to reach the $7.6 million the current board of supervisors said it has for the project are coming from a Community Development Block Grant. The addition of the CDBG grant is acceptable to MEMA, Womack said.

Womack said if the building is an acceptable replacement for the original Chimney Square, then FEMA will pay the full cost of the building, including change orders and cost overrun.

“However, if the building is built in a different location or resized, but still serves the same function, then funds are capped at the original estimate,” Womack said.

Womack said a larger building or a building built in a different location would be considered an “improved project” by FEMA, and the county would only receive the $4.9 million already allocated.

“The county would pay any cost overrun itself,” Womack said. “The only upgrades FEMA would pay for would be to bring a building up to current codes and standards.”

Womack also said that if the building costs less than the original estimate, then FEMA would pay only the cost of the new building.

“FEMA will replace the building at cost. (The county) can’t take the overage and build something else,” Womack said. “For example, if the building is built at a cost of $3 million, then FEMA would pay the three million, but no more. There would be no other buildings built out of these funds.”

Similarly, if the county decided to use the funds to build an alternate building for different purposes, that would be considered an “alternate project” by FEMA. As a result, FEMA would only pay 75 percent of the cost of the new building.

“If the county builds a building for other purposes, they would get 75 percent of the total cost. … FEMA’s purpose is to reimburse the county to replace what was originally there,” Womack said.

Womack also said that FEMA pays for architects to design a replacement building, but that it would not pay if a second set of plans were to be drawn up.

“To draw up a new set of plans would lose some of those costs,” Womack said.

Womack said the funding would not be affected however, until funds are actually dispensed towards the project.

“Until we start dispensing funds, there is no obligation on the part of the county. Because there have been no requisitions yet, the county could still change the work order to an alternate or improved project,” Womack said. “It could be potentially problematic if the old board issues a notice to proceed, and then the new board shuts down the project, but that has very little to do with (MEMA).”

Womack acknowledged that these options are generalities of the way the program works, and said MEMA is willing to work with both boards regarding the project.

“Until the current board leaves office, we will do what the current board wants.” Womack said. “We are not authorized to work with the new board until they take office, but we will try to do what the new board wants to do when they do take office. … We will sit down with the new board and discuss all the options.”

Womack said there is a time frame for usage of the funds, but that time frame will not come into play immediately.

“Because of the catastrophic nature of Hurricane Katrina, extensions have been given. However, the county does need to show they are making an effort to comply with the regulations of the grant. If there is a delay of months and months, there could be problems,” Womack said.