WHITEHALL – The August storms that submerged the village in 4 to 5 feet of flood waters and knocked out power to a 1,000 also devastated the schools.
Whitehall Central School District’s high school floors and walls were covered an inch of backed up water and sewage, and the elementary school gymnasium and kitchen were soaked with 6 inches of rain after wind knocked out the school’s sky lights.
With fall reopening looming, the district scrambled, spending $600,000 to make repairs and dry out the floors. While the elementary school has opened to students, the high school remains uninhabitable – shuttered to all but a handful of administrators clustered in one wing. And Superintendent Patrick Dee said he still has no idea if the district’s insurance carrier, New York School Insurance Reciprocal (NYSIR), will cover the cost of repairing the multimillion dollar damage.
“I’m beyond frustrated,” Dee said. “I’m absolutely appalled that an insurance company that is supposed to be working with and for schools and their students has not made the right choice. We have $32 million in coverage for water and sewer back-up. And they have not shared if they will cover our claims. We are stuck in a holding pattern. We can’t go forward with repairs.”
Dee said he immediately reached out to NYSIR after seeing the Aug. 24 damage to both buildings. On Aug. 25, NYSIR’s subcontracted adjusters came. But only after much pestering, Dee said, did NYSIR officials visit the district Sept. 8. At that time, they promised to call him in 48 hours with coverage. But Dee has heard nothing.
“It’s been four weeks,” Dee said on Tuesday.
He also wrote a letter to the community, hoping to enlist them to lobby NYSIR too, telling recipients “we have been struggling daily to get a response on coverage.”
NYSIR has a stated mission “to provide a comprehensive and cost-effective property and casualty insurance program for New York State public schools.” On Tuesday, Executive Director Robert W. Lulley, Jr. said in a statement that he was saddened by Whitehall’s situation.
“We have been working directly with the district steadily, and were on-site assessing the damage the morning after the storm hit, and several times since then,” Lulley’s statement read. “NYSIR has already provided the district with half a million dollars to begin remediation on damages covered by the policy. We will continue to work closely with the district to bring this to an appropriate conclusion.”
Dee said $250,000 came from the builder’s risk policy and another $250,000 from the district’s property policy.
“Sadly, this does not even begin to scratch the surface to initiate the significant repairs necessary,” Dee said.
Dee said the response delay is costing both the district and its 700 students. High schoolers, who were expected to return via a hybrid model, can only attend classes remotely. Mold is now growing within the walls of the high school. And those administrators bundled into one area of the high school have no heat to work by because both boilers, newly installed at a cost of $1.2 million, were breached by the water and sewage.
“The high school facility is just terrible,” Dee said. “In the elementary school, the gym floor needs to be replaced, all the carpets need to be replaced, but we do have it open and available to students.”
“It’s literally disgusting that a company can do this,” Dee said.