More funding needed for schools that serve as storm shelters, DCPS says

School leaders ask lawmakers for more state aid during Atlantic Coast High tour

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County needs more state aid for schools that serve as hurricane shelters, school district leaders told state lawmakers Tuesday afternoon.

The request came during a tour of Atlantic Coast High School, during which school leaders showed state legislators just how much money the district has spent sheltering people during hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

Atlantic Coast High School has lifesaving technology that allows it to serve as a medical shelter. One of the features are beams that lower from the ceiling and provide electricity to hospital beds and other medical devices. 

To keep the power on, Atlantic Coast has a nearly $1 million generator and a 5,000 gallon fuel tank to keep the generator running. 

"This is not your standard generator that you'll find at a public school," said Assistant Superintendent of Operations Don Nelson. "Overall, it's about $1 million."

The generators at schools that serve as regular shelters coast about $150,000. A generator like the one at Atlantic Coast allows medical patients to have similar services in the shelter that they would in a hospital.

Up to 500 people can shelter inside the Atlantic Coast gymnasium in the case of an emergency. 

Before Hurricane Irma, shelter sandbag placement cost the school district $11,896 and shuttering of shelters cost $75,905 -- for a total of $87,801 for pre-storm costs. 

After Irma, costs added up in categories such as shelter cleanup, interior school cleanup, maintenance overtime, tree removal, exterior school cleanup and maintenance repair cost -- a total of $954,033 for post-storm costs.

Duval County School Board member Becki Couch hopes state legislators will give them more money. 

"The funding that we get through FEMA is about a three-year delay. So as our capital budget shrinks, we have to be very resourceful with those dollars," Couch said. "Then when you have a hurricane, it impacts you and you have to front the funding for that and it puts stress on all of the things you can do for your other buildings throughout the district that aren't hurricane shelters."

The district is specifically asking for more funding for emergency generator support and emergency shelter shutter improvement. State legislators will likely bring these issues up beginning of next year. 

In the meantime, the district still hasn't received Federal Emergency Management Agency funding from Hurricane Matthew. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson's offices plan to contact FEMA to work on getting the district that money as soon as possible.