BAY COUNTY — A new combined community center and storm shelter is coming to Bay County.
The Bay County Commission recently approved a $2.6 million contract with Highland Wake Construction LLC to build the Bay Dunes Complex, a new community center, storage area and hardened facility that can be used for shelter. The project will be built on Majette Tower Road just off of U.S. 231 and be paid for with money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the Hurricane Michael recovery.
Chief Infrastructure Officer Keith Bryant said Bay County lost several buildings during Hurricane Michael, including its record management facility and two community centers. Restoring and adding the facilities back into the community, Bryant said, will be a tremendous resource for the county.
“To have a community center, where residents can have reunions and weddings or whatever they need it for, is a great feeling,” Bryant said.
The facility will be designed and constructed to withstand catastrophic events better than a typical office building. Directly after Michael, Bay County saw 22,000 of its then-180,000 residents homeless.
Bryant recalls how local schools had to be used as shelters because the county did not have a designated area safe enough to house those displaced by the hurricane. He said this caused another problem because the county was not able to reopen schools when it wanted to because people were still sheltered in them.
The new facility will ensure that during a natural disaster, there will be a set place where residents and staff members can go for safe refuge.
“It will also serve as a backup EOC (Emergency Operations Center),” Bryant said. “With Hurricane Michael, we had thousands of people come to town to help us and our EOC was just inundated. So, this will help us have a backup EOC to house additional functions.”
The designs for the facility have been drawn up and residents should expect construction to begin within the next 60 days, toward the beginning of next year. The construction should take about nine months, Bryant said.
Bryant said he is excited for the project to be complete and for residents to enjoy it along with Harders Recreation Park nearby.
“I’d love to see citizens utilizing the facility and use the community center,” Bryant said. “It would be nice to have that, that’s a beautiful park out there.”
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Bay County Florida to get new community center and storm shelter