By Jay Mullen
Whitehall Central School District is still waiting for the New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal to give them an answer about coverage for the damages sustained from the storms that hit on Aug. 24.
School superintendent Patrick Dee spoke to the Board of Education about this issue during its most recent meeting.
He didn’t hold back when discussing the condition the junior/senior high school is in.
“We are not in a good position,” Dee told the board.
There was extensive damage throughout the high school, including multiple locations that had multiple inches of standing water. Some parts of the school had multiple feet, according to Dee.
Initially after the storms he was unaware of how much the damages were going to cost.
He confirmed during the meeting that the district is looking at damage costing into the millions.
“We are looking at some really significant damage,” Dee said.
There has been substantial mold found in the walls and under the gym floor, which will continue to get worse until NYSIR gives the district an answer.
Dee said he doesn’t understand what is taking NYSIR so long to respond. The district has $32 million in coverage and has had engineers and hydrologists inspect the school and write reports for NYSIR to review.
“NYSIR still has not provided us with a response despite the fact that they have received our preliminary reports from the engineering firms and hydrologists, people who specialize in this, that seem to be very, very clear that these are what the problems are,” he said.
According to the reports Dee said that it’s clear the damages are a direct result of the drainage and sewer systems being overwhelmed and failing.
The lack of response from NYSIR does not only affect the time frame for the work that needs to be completed. It also impacts the junior/senior high school students.
The high school had to remain closed due to the damages, and Dee was hoping to bring students back for in-person instruction for the second marking period. It is unknown now if that will be an attainable goal for the district.
Dee hopes that NYSIR will “make the right decision” and provide the district with the coverage it needs, because until then they will remain in limbo.
“In the meantime our students continue to suffer,” he said.
School board president Roxanne Waters encouraged the board to visit the high school and look at the damages if they have not done so already.
She has been there to look at the damage twice.
“It gets worse each time I see it,” she said, referring to the mold and other damages.
Both Dee and Waters encouraged the board and the community to reach out to NYSIR expressing their concerns about coverage.
“This is simply not okay for our students and our community,” Dee said.
Waters said the board and the community need to make noise and let NYSIR know that what they are doing is not okay.
It is impacting too many lives.
“We can’t continue to have our students not in classrooms and in front of our teachers,” she said. “We have to do everything that we can.”
On Sept. 22, Dee sent an email including a letter to the community further encouraging that action be taken. It included contact information for the NYSIR executive director Robert W. Lully Jr., assistant executive director, the vice president of claims and everyone on their board of governors. You can reach Lully Jr. at 516-640-3035 or [email protected].
“Together, I truly hope that we can encourage the New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal, to make the Right Choice and provide coverage for our qualified loss,” he said in the letter. “Our students deserve to receive an in-person education in a clean and safe facility.”
In an email sent from Lulley Jr.’s office, he said that NYSIR was saddened to hear about the damage done to the district. He said that NYSIR has been working steadily with the district, and that they were on-site the morning after the storms hit to assess the damages.
“NYSIR has already provided the district with half a million dollars to begin remediation on damages covered by the policy,” he said. “We will continue to work closely with the district to bring this to an appropriate conclusion.”
Dee responded to these claims saying that $250,000 came from the district’s builders risk policy, while another $250,000 came from their property policy.
The district’s bill for water removal, drying and dehumidification is in excess of $316,000, which had to be put on hold so the gym floor could be taken care of at a cost of $142,375.
“The gymnasium has asbestos underlayment and is now fraught with mold,” Dee said. ”Sadly, this does not even begin to scratch the surface to initiate the significant repairs necessary.”
Dee also pointed out that NYSIR did not appear on-site until Sept.8. Prior to that there was only an adjuster and engineer that NYSIR subcontracted.
“This has been nothing but a headache and a cacophony of excuses,” Dee said.