WCCC to house emergency shelter

Posted Jan. 27, 2009, at 10:32 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — The area soon will have an emergency shelter that will offer a safe haven not only for people caught in a catastrophe, but also for pets — everything from gerbils to horses.

City officials and the Washington County Community College announced last week that the city has been awarded a $47,000 grant to turn St. Croix Hall on the college campus into an emergency shelter. Last year, the emergency service deputy director of the Pine Tree chapter of the American Red Cross conducted a site visit on campus and approved St. Croix Hall as an emergency shelter.

St. Croix Hall is ideal because it has a large gymnasium and kitchen area where an estimated 350 meals could be prepared.

But what makes the entire shelter unique is there will be a place for pets.

City Manager Diane Barnes said last week that people faced with an emergency often are not willing to leave their homes because they refuse to abandon their pets. Now they can take their animals with them.

“We didn’t have an emergency shelter in this area for the county and we’ve had a number of near misses this year on different types of emergencies that could have had the potential that we might have needed a shelter,” she said.

The only other shelter in the county is in Machias, she said.

“If something should happen down on the coast and the Machias emergency shelter couldn’t be utilized, then we would become the emergency shelter, so it is regional,” she said. The same is true of the Machias shelter.

Barnes learned last year through the Washington County Emergency Management Agency in Machias that grant money was available to set up a shelter in Calais. Once the city decided to apply, Barnes approached WCCC, which agreed to partner with the city.

The money is just a fraction of what the city needs for the project. Calais had applied for enough money to purchase six generators and associated switching equipment for St. Croix Hall, the dormitories and the administrative building, but was awarded only enough to install one generator at St. Croix Hall.

WCCC President William Cassidy said the college is well aware of the importance of a shelter and that was why it agreed to participate.

“We have had a couple of near misses the past couple of years,” he said referring to a fire last year that could have wiped out a lot of houses in eastern Washington County.

Cassidy said he would like to see the city pursue additional grants because the college’s administration building would make a perfect command center and the dormitories could be turned into short-term-care units. “Take elders who might have to be removed from an elder care facility or whatever, you could move them into [there],” he said.

Barnes agreed. “As these grant opportunities continue to become available we are going to continue to apply for them,” she said.

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