Many residents of Gloucester County and several of the County’s Supervisors repeatedly asked the School Board and their retiring leader to repair Page Middle School after the April 2011 tornado. County records reflect the Page schoolhouse, its contents and property in the open were insured for a total of $13,513,744 at the time of the tornado.
The insurance carrier and a separate firm hired by the School Board concluded the amount of damage was several million dollars less than the maximum coverage amount. The School Board paid at least $27,000 in tax payer money to hire the separate firm. The insurance carrier’s estimate to return the school to an upgraded and fully functional state and to repair or replace all outbuildings, lights, fences, the concession stand and bleachers was $8,235,687. This left $5,278,057 in insurance contingency funds to cover unforeseen tornado related damage and costs during construction.
The insurance estimate also included the installation, lease and removal of temporary modular classrooms to house displaced Page students during construction, based on an 18 to 24 month recovery period. The School Board now estimates it will cost tax payers over $300,000 to remove the modular units because the insurance money to cover this scope of work will be used to lease the units for two additional years. This and many other additional costs are a direct result of the School Board’s financially irresponsible decision to design and build a new schoolhouse on undeveloped land that will take over four years to complete. What is more appalling is they did this during a time of decreasing school enrollment and economic instability.
If Page had been repaired it would have been open for instruction within two years of the tornado and the County’s out of pocket expense would have been $5,000,000 or less to walk away with over $30,000,000 in school assets. Instead,Gloucester has what will be a semi-functional schoolhouse and complex, $20,000,000 dollars worth of debt and now according to the School Board, budget shortfalls.
The School Board and their retiring leader made some very poor choices that will render negative impacts on the Gloucester Community for several years to come. This is something every voter and potential School Board candidate should keep in mind when election season rolls around.
Kenneth E. Hogge, Sr.