AUSTIN (KXAN) — Citing the uncertainty of how many evacuees the city of Austin is expecting, the city has decided to not use the Austin Convention Center as a mega shelter location.
Prior to Thursday’s regular Austin City Council meeting, the council members convened for an emergency meeting to discuss the city’s response to Harvey. City staff members presented a new location in southeast Austin as a possible mega shelter site. The 160,000-square-foot location at 7000 Metropolis Drive would be leased by the city and turned into a mega shelter for an unknown period of time.
City staff such as the assistant city manager and emergency management coordinator said the new location would be easier in terms of scalability and parking.
“Allows us to consolidate and not have to be going into multiple locations because that creates a logistical problem,” said Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano.
Council Member Ellen Troxclair questioned whether events scheduled at the convention center played a role in the city moving the shelter location. The city says there were conventions scheduled for the next two to three months. The organizer of the next convention that was scheduled called and offered to cancel the event as well. For city staff, moving into a different location was a longer-term decision.
Originally, the city was asked to house 7,000 evacuees, but that number has narrowed down to 2,000 guests with an arrival window of 7-10 days.
After discussing the item for approximately one hour, the council approved the motion to lease the property for the mega shelter.
According to the council agenda, the lease runs for 30 days with the chance for seven 30-day extension options.
Council Member Delia Garza, who represents District 2 where the new mega shelter will be housed, said she wasn’t aware of the new shelter until around 8:45 Thursday morning when the emergency meeting agenda was posted.
“I know that they were setting up the convention center last night [for the mega shelter] so that’s what led to some confusion for me,” Garza said.
Ultimately, city staff cleared up much of that confusion for Garza, explaining to her that they had surveyed 80 potential sites and found the one on Metropolis Drive to be the best fit for the evacuees.
Garza said she doesn’t know what the impacts of the shelter will be to her district, but she is deferring to the city’s recommendation for this new shelter.
“If they felt in their best opinion that this was a safe place for those evacuees, of course, District 2 welcomes them with open arms, and we look forward to hosting them and I will make sure we continue to ask tough questions to make sure that it is a safe space and they are getting all the services they need there,” she said.
Garza worked as a firefighter at a shelter during Katrina, she explained that these kinds of shelters can become like small cities, offering a variety of services. She asks that any constituents with questions or concerns about the shelter to reach out to her office.
For Garza there are still many unanswered questions about the new center, she doesn’t know how many evacuees there will be or how long they will be staying in Austin. She also wants to find out more about how the children of those evacuees will be bused to school.
Del Valle ISD told KXAN News on Thursday that the mega shelter would already be zoned into their district. However, they will not know how many students to expect until the shelter opens and they added that evacuees already in Austin may have enrolled in Austin ISD. Students who already enrolled in Austin ISD will be allowed to continue their education there if they choose.
“We are prepped and prepared to accept any and all students who have academic needs, and we are more than happy to assist them through the registration process,” said Shannon Rideout with Del Valle ISD.
The new center will also benefit from the Central Texas Food Bank which located a short distance away from the Metropolis Drive location. Mark Jackson, chief development officer for the Central Texas Food Bank said they’re looking forward to the possibility of feeding and assisting the evacuees.
“We are committed to serving not just the 21 counties we serve, but all of the state of Texas right now,” Jackson said. “You know hunger doesn’t reside just in county lines, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that people impacted by the storm are fed.”
Jackson added that the Metropolis Drive shelter location may bring more traffic than the area is used to, but it also offers plenty of parking spaces and major freeway access.