FOLEY – Work is expected to begin in 2024 on a $5.5-million facility to shelter Foley first-responders and other officials during a hurricane or other emergency.

The city is working on plans for a safe room where needed personnel could take shelter to be available immediately after a storm. Mayor Ralph Hellmich said most of the cost of the facility would be paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We’re working on a $5-million safe room that will house our employees and employees from state agencies and things in Foley during a hurricane,” Hellmich said. “We’ve moved that forward.”

Hellmich said FEMA approved the funding after Hurricane Sally struck the area in 2020. 

The federal grant will require that an archaeological study be done to determine if construction would disturb any historic sites. That study is now being conducted.

“We have to go out and do a dig on this site, looking for artifacts and things,” Hellmich said. “ I really don’t believe we will find anything but it’s something they require and it takes time to do these things and have them reviewed.”

City Administrator Mike Thompson said city officials have been meeting with FEMA to move the project forward.

“We hope to have the archaeological study completed this month,” Thompson said. “If that happens, we believe we will probably be able to break ground by the summer.”

The FEMA grant would provide about $5 million of the estimated $5.5 million cost of the project. Some funding could also be available from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. The facility could also be used for training when it is not in service as a shelter.

City officials said that in the three years since Hurricane Sally, almost all the funding requested from FEMA has been reimbursed. Foley is still waiting on decisions on about two projects. 

After hearing a report on reimbursement, Hellmich said Foley employees have been working with federal and state officials since 2020 to secure the funding.

“That report was the culmination of probably thousands of hours of meetings, talking to the state EMA, talking to FEMA, talking to our third party contractors, working on projects, supplying information,” Hellmich said. “It was incredible.”

Thompson said the funding not only helped the city, but residents and businesses as well.

“Each one of these dollars are associated with physical work in our community,” Thompson said. “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that every single department in our city put out the effort to make this kind of response happen. It’s easy to forget the parameters under which we were working. This was during COVID. When most businesses were closed and their people were at home, our employees were out here serving our community and making sure that we recovered from a storm.”