Publication Date 10/13/2010
Source: Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, WI)
The Augusta school district might be forced to pay for the estimated $415,000 cleanup of its elementary school after the district’s insurance company rejected a claim seeking payment for mold removal that closed the building for the start of this school year.
“It’s kind of disheartening,” Augusta schools Superintendent Bill Perry said. “We had to get it cleaned. You let it go for a couple days, and you have a disaster.”
District officials will continue to try to persuade its insurance carrier, EMC Insurance of Des Moines, Iowa, to pay the bill.
But if those efforts are unsuccessful, the district will have to look at ways to cover the costs of the cleanup. That could mean delaying purchases with an already tight budget, Perry said.
“We’ll try to pay as much as we can out of this year’s budget,” he said. “But I don’t think it will be adequate to cover it.”
School board Chairman Byron King said he was disappointed EMC Insurance has rejected the district’s claim.
“How do insurance companies expect schools that are short budgeted … it’s hard to believe they can do it,” King said. “This would darn near clean out our fund balance.”
EMC Insurance representatives were not available for comment Tuesday.
Perry said it appears a lightning strike on June 26 knocked out the air conditioning unit in the elementary school, which was built in the 1960s. Humidity built up in the school during the next few weeks, and mold spots started appearing in the building in late July.
“We just had a spot of mold on the carpet (at first),” Perry said. “Then we had some on furniture in a classroom. We had surface mold on some of the desks.”
Perry said district officials contacted EMC Insurance and the company told the district to clean the building immediately.
“They didn’t even question it when we first turned (the claim) in,” Perry said.
The district hired Clean-Works of Fall Creek to oversee mold cleanup, and that work took place between Aug. 20 and Friday. The elementary school was deemed mold-free at the end of last week.
Cleanup costs are estimated at $350,000 with carpet and ceiling tile replacement to cost another $65,000. District officials submitted those bills to EMC Insurance, but the insurance carrier balked at paying for cleanup, saying the district hasn’t proven that a lightning strike caused the air conditioning system to malfunction.
“They saw the higher bill, and they back-tracked,” Perry said. “I don’t understand their rationale. They were going to cover it, and then they decided not, once the bills got bigger.”
Perry said he’s contacted a state insurer to determine whether the district can fight the insurance company’s rejection notice. He hopes the district can keep working with EMC Insurance to get the bill paid.
“The district is still going to look at all its options,” Perry said.
Back in School
Augusta Elementary School students have returned to their school after spending the start of the school year in other buildings because of a mold problem in the elementary building. Students in first through fifth grade were in the high school building while the preschoolers and kindergartners were in a nearby building. About 300 students were displaced during the mold-cleaning process.