PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Tropical Weather

May 28, 2014

New shelter to serve needs of Orange County residents

ORANGE — The devastation of Hurricane Ike more than five years showed county leaders the need for a centralized location to maintain operations and oversee the restoration of services following a disaster.

In early 2014, the originally conceived as a “Shelter of Last Resort,” the Orange County Convention and Expo Center opened. The facility, constructed at a cost of approximately $10.5 million, was built to serve as an Emergency Operations Center for the county following a natural disaster or other emergency and is located at 11475 FM 1442 in Orange, approximately one mile south of Interstate 10. The concept of the facility was later expanded and now includes several county departments, conference rooms and ballroom.

According to Orange County Judge Carl Thibodeaux, the funding for the building came from insurance funds and Disaster Recovery Funding from the federal government.

In fact, it was funding from Round 1 of the Disaster Recover Funding which allowed the county to receive approval for one of the few shelters granted under the funding program.

“We used $8 million which was paid by the Federal government for this building,” Thibodeaux said. “The rest came from insurance money and some out of the general fund. It is totally paid for and it serves many purposes, along with being a shelter of last resort if needed.”

The facility was constructed with the purpose of being located far enough north in the county to avoid any potential storm surges, and strong enough to withstand winds of approximately 200 mph, according to Thibodeaux.

Due in large part to the devastation of Hurricane Ike’s storm surge, the county relocated several departments to the new facility. These departments included Road and Bridge, Health and Code Compliance, as well as the Texas AgriLife Extension Office. It also houses the Emergency Management department.

“We had to get permission from the General Land Office to make it a dual purpose building, but that was the plan all along,” Thibodeaux explained. “We couldn’t just have this building made for use during a hurricane to just sit there empty. That would have been a waste of taxpayers dollars.”

Thibodeaux said the building is well used and has become very beneficial to the county departments and to county residents.

“It has also become an educational building because the AgriLife Office teaches classes out there,” he explained. “Instead of them finding another location to hold their class, people can go to them every month.”

Other educational opportunities include monthly meetings held at the facility by groups such as Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Diabetes/Nutrition and 4-H.

The ballroom is the largest in the county and in the past six months has accommodated events for organizations such as the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Orange County Republican Party.

“The building offers a quality of life for the county we did not have before,” said Sabrina Gray, event coordinator for the Orange County Convention and Expo Center. “It is opening doors for the county because we never had the capacity for a large event before.”

Thibodeaux said there are talks of future plans for land surrounding the Orange County Convention and Expo Center, such as the creation of a rodeo arena and softball fields, but none of those projects would be county related.

“This building has several purposes, but the main one being it provides a safe, secure place to work in the event of a storm or another disaster for everyone involved,” Thibodeaux said. “It’s a win-win for Orange County.”

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