WHITEHALL — The Whitehall Central School District has hired a Washington, D.C.-based law firm to try to collect insurance money it says it is owed from the August flooding.
Superintendent Patrick Dee told the Board of Education on Monday that the district has retained Weisbrod, Matteis & Copley to obtain funding from New York School Insurance Reciprocal.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to come to some conclusion with them in the not-too-distant future and that’s with all of our fingers and toes crossed,” he said.
The Aug. 24 storm dumped as much as 6 inches of water in parts of Whitehall. There was standing water in every part of the junior-senior high school, ranging from a few inches to a few feet. The district had to switch to all-virtual learning for those students.
The private insurance company denied much of the school district’s claim because it determined the property damage is the result of flooding and not the backup of the sewer and drain systems in and around the building, as the district and its engineers had determined.
Dee said in an email on Tuesday that the firm is working with the district on a full contingency basis.
“They are so confident that NYSIR is in the wrong that they are accepting no payment from the district unless and until the district receives a recovery for damage to the district beyond the $1.8 million that NYSIR has already agreed to pay,” he said in an email.
If the district settles with NYSIR before it goes to litigation, the firm will receive 10% of the proceeds, according to Dee. It will receive 25% of the payment if the matter proceeds to trial and the district receives more money.
Dee said previously that the damage estimate was $16 million.
On its website, Weisbrod, Matteis & Copley says: “You can count on us when the stakes are high. Whether it’s a $100 million loss to your company, theft of your invention, or fraud by an insurance company that prevents you and hundreds of your neighbors from rebuilding your hurricane-damaged homes, we take every case personally. We are ready to fight your adversaries and know how to win.”
Dee also provided an update on the work to repair the building. He had previously stated that it could be as late as March before students could return. However, he is optimistic that will happen sooner.
The district had to hire a company to remove the water and dry out the building and then a company to analyze where water damage and mold growth had occurred.
The remediation work involved setting up containment barriers in each wing of the building with continuous air monitoring conducted. Asbestos had to be removed.
“Virtually all of the abatement inside of the building has been completed, well ahead of schedule,” he said.
The containment barriers have been removed, according to Dee. The next step is to pull out the windows and remove the caulk around them, which contains PCBs,
He said crews are also pulling up flooring to replace it. They have been framing up and insulating the exterior walls and putting down new flooring throughout the main office, guidance and nurse’s office. Dee said he hopes that after Thanksgiving, the staff will be back in their regular offices.
Dee said he is working on plans to bring back some groups of students into the high school — perhaps shortly after Thanksgiving, or after the holiday break.
“How that will look we’re still uncertain, but we’re working on that,” he said.