Pelham storm shelters called ‘very positive’

The Pelham Police and Court building and City Hall housed more than 170 residents during the April 28 and 29 severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings, city officials said. (Contributed)

The Pelham Police and Court building and City Hall housed more than 170 residents during the April 28 and 29 severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings, city officials said. (Contributed)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

PELHAM—A year after the Pelham City Council turned down a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to bring storm shelters to the city, Pelham’s storm shelter system was put to the test.

During the late April severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings, Pelham’s storm shelters at the Police and Court building and the basement of City Hall served 152 residents on April 28 and 29 residents on April 29.

“From all accounts it was very positive,” Pelham City Council President Rick Hayes said. “It was a comfortable environment.”

A year earlier, the City Council unanimously voted to turn down a $802,510 FEMA grant during a specially called meeting on April 29, 2013. The grant would have brought five storm shelters to the town.

“It was a very tricky situation for us,” Hayes said, noting the grant required very specific placement of the “confining” storm shelter structures in “very difficult locations,” and offered no room for flexibility.

The grant stipulated two storm shelters be placed at Pelham City Park, one at the Pelham Senior Center, one at Fungo Holler Park and one at the Pelham Civic Complex.

“They weren’t giving us the latitude to put the shelters where we needed them,” Mayor Gary Waters said during a May 12 City Council meeting.

Hayes noted that Pelham already had available storm shelters for residents, namely the Police and Court building, which he characterized as “very secure” and “unbelievably sound,” and the basement of City Hall. But “any city facility” can be used as a storm shelter, Hayes said.

“We had facilities…that were intended for this, we weren’t getting the message out,” Hayes said.

The current city storm shelters are “much more convenient for residents” and offered far more space, Hayes said.

“What had been viewed as a negative…has been turned into a positive,” Hayes said during a May 12 City Council meeting.

“Our future is very bright in being able to house and protect our citizens in severe weather,” Waters said.