School and public safety leaders are preparing to move forward on a project to retrofit the Live Oak Junior High gym so it can serve as a Red Cross emergency shelter.

During their last meeting, the Livingston Parish School Board members voted to put the project up for bid. Authorities have been talking about the construction for more than a year, but the district is relying on FEMA to pay for 75 percent of the cost and have had to wait for the funding to come through.

“Hallelujah, hallelujah,” board member Kellee Hennessy remembered thinking when she recently got word that the money had been allocated.

She wasn’t sure how much the retrofit might cost, though authorities estimated the entire bill may run around $1.9 million, with the Watson-area school district paying for a quarter.

Hennessy said the old gym needed an upgrade anyway and will now get federal assistance to install a new roof, flooring and air-conditioning unit. It will get backup generators, storm screens on the windows and a safe room that can be used in case of a tornado, said Mark Harrell, head of the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

The parish has a variety of sites that can serve as shelters, though differences in construction and location mean that not every site can be used for various emergencies. When completed, the Live Oak Junior High gym will be the toughest in the parish, ready for any major disaster, Harrell said.

“This will probably be my most hardened facility,” he said.

Harrell wants to make shelter improvements at other schools but said districts would have to be prepared to commit the 25 percent match toward the cost of making any other storm retrofits.

The School Board has previously passed on other projects recommended by public safety leaders, though the city of Walker picked up the baton to build one at Sidney Hutchinson Park. That site, however, is only intended as a staging area for first responders, and local authorities are still waiting for federal approval to begin construction.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.