JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State University could have more than $11 million in out-of-pocket costs from the March 19 tornado if it doesn’t get federal aid, JSU leaders learned Monday.
JSU President John Beehler said he expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency to declare the campus and the city of Jacksonville eligible for disaster aid next week. Without a declaration, though, JSU could be stuck with a bill for expenses ranging from tree removal to certain building construction work.
The university’s tornado disaster costs were reviewed during the JSU board of trustees’ quarterly committee meetings Monday. The board will continue with committee meetings today, followed by its formal meeting, where it will vote on any necessary items.
Beehler said FEMA recently made its first assessment of the damage to the campus and the city and expects it to declare the area eligible for disaster relief money as early as next week. A community must have at least $7 million in out-of-pocket damage costs from a disaster to get federal aid.
“That $11 million in out-of-pocket costs will be taken out of our hide if we don’t get that federal money from FEMA,” Beehler said.
Part of the out-of-pocket costs include more than $3 million for tree cleanup and removal. Other costs include $2.3 million to renovate the former Kitty Stone Elementary. The old school will be used to house the department of finance, economics and accounting that was housed in Merrill Hall, which was practically destroyed by the tornado.
The replacement of Merrill itself could incur several million dollars in out-of-pocket costs on its own, apart from the $11 million. The building is insured, but early estimates, still under negotiation, are that the insurer will pay around $16 million of the cost to rebuild. The total cost to rebuild could be between $28 and $32 million, Beehler said. If federal aid is approved, FEMA would cover difference, he said.
Meanwhile, the university has around $42 million in insured damage from the tornado, including $6 million to repair Pete Mathews Coliseum. Work on the coliseum is set to be finished by Nov. 1.
Don Killingsworth, director of university relations at JSU, said there were plans to ask the Alabama Legislature for funding to help with the recovery — similar to what the state did to help cover the cost to rebuild a high school in Enterprise after a tornado destroyed it in 2007.
“It was too late to get anything in this session … the budgets were already set,” Killingsworth said. “Next year when the budgets are new, we’re going to come in and ask for some money.”
Later, during the athletic committee meeting, the board learned that the delayed construction of the campus’ new baseball stadium is set to be complete on June 30.
The stadium was first set to be open in February, but unseasonably cold weather and rain delayed construction. John Morris of Morris Construction, the company building the stadium, said the tornado has further delayed work.
“We are heading in the right direction … we have great manpower on the project,” Morris said at the meeting. “We’re going to have a beautiful baseball stadium.”
Thomas Dedrick, chairman of the athletic committee, said he was unsatisfied with how the project has progressed to date.
“The season is lost,” Dedrick said, referring to the team’s inability to play its games on a new home field. “I want to express how disappointed I am.”
Morris said he was also disappointed in the progress, but that his company was committed to providing a stadium that would help recruit players on a national level.