The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 23, 2013

$2M in flood insurance helps fund school repairs

By Robert Stoneback
The Daily Item

— DANVILLE — School administrators plan to continue covering the Danville Middle School for $2 million, the maximum amount of flood insurance they are permitted.

“We’ve always insured, we’ve taken to the maximum,” said Cheryl Latorre, school district superintendent.

When the middle school was closed following the Tropical Storm Lee flood in September 2011, about half of that money went toward cleaning the building and eliminating mold, said district business manager Janis Venna. The other half was put toward upgrades to the then-closed Danville Elementary School so that it could be used as classroom space by the district’s seventh- and eighth-grade students. About 550 students were displaced by the closing of the middle school, with sixth-graders being taught in extra classrooms at the Danville Primary School.

Half of the $2 million in insurance comes from the school’s insurance carrier, and the other $1 million is gained through the national flood insurance program.

The district pays about $5,000 a year for the national flood insurance coverage, Latorre said. The middle school, located next to Mahoning Creek, is the only district building in a flood zone and is the only one covered by flood insurance.

The district does not have an exact amount paid for flood insurance because it all is lumped together in a package insurance deal, Venna said. That package costs roughly $53,000 a year and includes districtwide coverage for flood, fire, auto, property and general liability.

Flood insurance rates may change once the borough completes its flood control levee system, Latorre said.

“We will continue to take the maximum insurance until the levee system is complete,” at which point the district will revisit insurance coverage, she said.

The borough anticipates the levee project to be completed on Dec. 20.

The Danville Middle School is on track to open for the start of the 2013-14 school year, which begins Aug. 26. An open house and dedication for the renovated school will begin at 6 p.m. Sept. 26.

About $10 million of the money used to repair and renovate the school has come from the federal and Pennsylvania emergency management agencies, which funded repairs made within the school’s original construction footprint. Federal money would have been greatly reduced if the district had opted to build a new school, Latorre said.

“There was no way feasibly we could have purchased new land and built a new school. … Not in this day and age when school districts are in such a financial crisis,” she said.

FEMA and PEMA officials have said they would fund future repairs to the school in the event of another flood.

New additions to the Danville Middle School include water resistant walls, receptacles placed higher than flood-water levels and vents around the perimeter of the building meant to equalize pressure in the event of flooding.

“We’re two years out almost. If this would happen again, I do think we are prepared,” Latorre said.

The district spent $1.5 million to $2 million of its own money on additional repairs and renovations not covered by the government. These include air-conditioning in the school’s auditorium and a wooden floor for the gymnasium, as well as additional lighting, wiring and paint for the undamaged second floor to match the renovated first floor.