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District pushes back against initial insurance offer for Lee Elementary

January 29, 2018

Hillsborough County Public Schools is challenging a surprisingly low insurance settlement offer and hiring its own engineers and construction managers to investigate options for the future of Lee Elementary Magnet School after receiving the initial report from its insurance adjuster following the September 2017 fire that destroyed the school.

The insurance adjuster’s offer fell significantly short of our district’s expectations, with an offer that is far less than what our district expects it would take to rebuild the school. Further, our district questions the insurance adjuster’s finding that the building and its brick façade cannot be saved in any way for future use.

Our district plans to dispute the insurance adjuster’s initial offer. And already, Hillsborough County Public Schools has engaged its own engineering firm and construction company – both with extensive experience in this historic building projects – to complete their own evaluations of rebuilding costs and processes. Our district expects findings from those firms in 30 days.

“The offer from the insurance adjuster is simply not enough – we are sending that message very clearly,” Superintendent Jeff Eakins said. “And we understand it’s difficult to restore a building in this condition, but for the insurance adjuster to say it’s just impossible? We want to see what the options are for ourselves, so we’re investing in hiring our own experts to investigate.”

Lee Elementary was built by volunteers in 1906 as the Michigan Avenue Grammar School and was renamed Lee in 1943. It became the district’s first magnet school in 1993. It currently offers both technology and world studies magnet themes.

Lee Elementary Magnet now shares a campus with Lockhart Elementary Magnet at 3719 N. 17th Street, a relocation completed in just a handful of days thanks to tremendous support from hundreds of volunteers, business partners and friends, including many HCPS educators. Lee is expected to remain on the shared campus through the 2018-19 school year; decisions about its long-term location are pending the resolution of this insurance claim.

"Money does dictate what we do," Chief Operating Officer Chris Farkas said on Monday. "The intent is to find out what we can do to 'make it whole again.' That's our goal. Then when we have all that information we sit down with the superintendent, and he in turn sits down with the board ... so they can make that decision."

"I want to make sure I have all the facts," Farkas added, "and give them all the opportunity to make an educated choice."

The total insurance settlement proposed by our property insurers to rebuild the school was just under $9.2 million. A separate insurance process will determine the offer for replacing lost equipment. While each school project is different, and historic buildings often cost more than others, for comparison, our district’s most recent newly built elementary school, Warren Hope Dawson, cost $17.3 million to design and construct.

The complete insurance report is available at https://tinyurl.com/LeeReport0118.

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