The Woodburn School District has decided to move forward with restoring the section of Woodburn High School affected by a May 2012 fire, with work starting next summer.

The decision comes after Richard Rogers, chief building official for the state, responded to the city of Woodburn’s requests for clarification on building codes in late August. Rogers’ explanation was that the damaged area would only need to be restored to its 1976 FILE PHOTO - The Woodburn School District is moving forward with repairs on Woodburn High School, which suffered major damage to part of the building in this May 11, 2012 fire.

“BCD (Building Codes Division) considers the work in question to be a repair,” Rogers wrote. “In short, all building devices and safeguards required by the code must be repaired in conformance with the code edition under which originally installed.”

Superintendent Chuck Ransom said that, since the district would not have to install a sprinkler system, as modern codes would require, the district would go ahead with the project in two phases: Phase one is the affected area where water damage occurred, such as flooring and wall siding replacement, and phase two is the burned area. The phase one work would be scheduled for work next summer.

“For phase two, the architects will do a set of prints for us to estimate the cost of rebuilding to the original design of the area,” Ransom said. “Once we arrive at a dollar amount, we could get paid out by the insurance company. The district may opt to change the design, but that would be subject to codes and city approval. It would also add to the cost.”

He added that it is still unclear when construction would begin on phase two, which has been blocked off since the fire damage occurred.

School districts all buy into a pool through PACE (Property and Casualty Coverage for Education), which is managed by Special Districts Association of Oregon. PACE covers the first $500,000 of a claim, and anything more goes to its insurance company, Lexington Insurance.

So far, the district has received around $4 million from PACE, which has paid for Cooper Construction for cleanup after the fire, bringing in adjusters and air quality hygienists to evaluate the affected area, replacement of district and personal property, and the rental and installation of 10 modular buildings on the north side of the campus so classes could continue as normal.

“We will still have to resolve the costs of the modular buildings and few other assorted issues,” Ransom said, noting that was a disputed expense.

Additionally, the district has paid $1 million out of pocket, with the expectation of reimbursement, Ransom said.

“We are not an insurance company, and our goal is to serve school districts,” said Alex Pulaski, spokesman for Oregon School Boards Association. “Because we are a pool, we are responsible to all of our members. If we were to pay out money for any claim that we do not believe is supportable then districts across Oregon would have to pay higher premiums as a result. We are still hopeful that we can settle the claim in Woodburn amicably.”

Some parts of that claim in question come from information from an independent industrial hygienist hired by the school district. The district claims that the ventilation system has to be replaced or fixed because it contains smoke particles. The insurance company hired its own hygienist, who conducted similar tests in August. These results have not been released yet.

The district also is contesting personal property claims — 2,700 line items are included in the report, according to Pulaski — as well as the scope of repairs.

“We just completed our review and are summarizing our findings in preparation to settle that portion of the claim,” Pulaski said.

PACE is hopeful for a quick resolution, he noted.

“As we have said all along, our intention is repair the building in accordance with building code standards in effect at the time of the loss,” said Lisa Freiley, OSBA’s director of legal, labor and PACE services. “We will comply with the state’s ruling, but we need to see the estimates before making a final decision on any settlement.”

Ransom said he’s relieved that it looks like the district and its insurer are working together toward a resolution.

“The state building inspector’s decision allows us to move forward for better or worse,” he said. “I’m slightly encouraged, but I've been disappointed too often say anything is certain.”

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