ATLANTA, Ga. -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved a grant of more than $8.3 million to rebuild Jefferson County's Oak Grove High School, Region IV Director John Copenhaver of FEMA said today.
The high school was destroyed in April, 1998, when a series of twisters, including rare F-5 winds up to 300-mph, raked Birmingham and nearby communities, killing more than 30 people, injuring 700 more, and leaving millions of dollars in losses in their wakes.
"Private insurance covered $5.6 million of the school's losses," said Copenhaver. "FEMA stepped in to provide 75 percent of the remaining reconstruction costs." State and local resources will provide the remaining 25 percent.
Copenhaver said the school, which is part of the Jefferson County Board of Education system, housed 1,122 pupils before being destroyed by the tornado. Fortunately, the storm struck in off-school hours when there were no students in attendance.
One of FEMA's goals in the project was the strengthening of the structure. The improvements are designed to make buildings safer in future storms. Also, reinforced walls and ceilings will provide a further envelope of safety, according to Copenhaver. "Engineers who have studied tornadoes tell us that in all but the most extreme events, significant damage can be reduced or avoided through measures to strengthen structures," he said.
Birmingham-Jefferson County is a Project Impact community in partnership with FEMA. Project Impact is an initiative designed to lessen the impact of disasters on communities.
A state of Alabama grant has provided for a school building to house kindergarten and elementary pupils through Grade 6 which were part of the destroyed structure. The new Oak Grove High School structure will be designed for approximately 700 students. Cafeteria, library and gymnasium space will be able to accommodate up to 1,200 persons. Construction is expected to be completed soon.