Plans are in motion to ensure that if the power goes out in Havre, the lights will stay on at at least one local school.
Officials from Havre Public Schools and the Hill County government met with Kent Atwood, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services hazard mitigation officer, to find what the next steps are in a federal grant to install a diesel generator at Havre High School.
The $16,650 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant is through disaster mitigation funds.
“FEMA is doing this to mitigate a severe winter storm or spring storm if it knocks out the power, ” Atwood said. “That’s why we’re doing this. ”
Atwood met with Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson, Jim Donovan, director of transportation and grounds for the district, and its clerk and business manager, Mike Arnold. The county government was represented by Commissioner Jeff LaVoi and county DES Coordinator Joe Parenteau. State DES District II Representative Ed Gierke also attended the meeting.
Carlson said in an interview before the meeting that the generator will ensure power for the school and its students, but also a facility for the community in case of a power outage or other emergency. The high school is a Red Cross designated emergency shelter.
Hill County applied for the grant from a pool of money that came from the presidential disasters declared in the state in 2010 and 2011. These include declarations for Chouteau and Hill counties and Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation due to flooding in 2010 and additional declarations for Hill County, Rocky Boy, Blaine County and the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in 2011. The mitigation money goes statewide in an application process to reduce damage or problems in future disasters.
The grant, along with a required $5,500 local match, will be used to “de-mothball” the 200 kilowatt three-cycle diesel generator, pour a cement pad at the high school on which to mount and hard-wire the generator, and connect it as a backup power source to the high school’s power system.
The district plans to primarily use a soft match, such as work by school district personnel, to make up the required match. The county will retain ownership of the generator and will administer the grant.
The meeting came less than a year after a winter storm knocked out power throughout north-central Montana last March. In May, a car took out a power pole and interrupted power in the region again, including at Havre High School.
The meeting also comes less than two years after the roof of the high school collapsed during a winter storm at the end of 2010, right next to where the generator will be installed.
“The picture of when the roof collapsed, the way the roof kind of collapsed pointed right at the spot, ” Parenteau said.
The results of that roof collapse — which disrupted operation of the school and led to more than a year’s worth of work repairing the damage and correcting deficient work when the roof was installed in the 1990s — were part of the reason the generator is being installed, he added.
“That’s kind of when we started talking about this, ” Parenteau said.
The generator has a long history in Havre, although it has not yet been used.
Parenteau said in an interview before the meeting started that the generator came to Havre in 2007, after the Hill County Sheriff’s Office successfully applied to the U. S. Department of Defense for a grant.
The department allows grant applications from agencies for surplus equipment, like the retired generator.
After the Defense Department awarded the grant to the Sheriff’s Office, the generator was brought to Havre and was stored near the high school.
In 2010, it was moved to Montana State University-Northern, with the plan that it could be used in a program to teach students about diesel generators. That program never developed, and the generator has been stored there ever since.
“It’s just been sitting there, waiting for a new home, ” Parenteau said.
The plan is to de-mothball the generator, pour the pad and install the generator in the spring or early summer, getting it hooked up and operational before school resumes next fall.