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Fire mediation talks could be next month

The Woodburn School District could enter into formal mediation talks as early as next month to settle its outstanding insurance claim for damages the Woodburn High School sustained in a May 2012 fire.

Superintendent Chuck Ransom said some “tentative dates” have been set for September with the school’s insurance provider, Property and Casualty Coverage for Education (PACE).

It’s also possible that the claim could be resolved before going into formal mediation, he added.

“Between now and September, we could actually settle and not go to mediation at all,” he said.

The district is already in the midst of repairs in the partially damaged section of the high school. That $1.3 million project includes repairs and renovation in the part damaged by water, smoke and heat, rather than direct exposure to the flames.

Ransom had recommended that the board proceed with this phase of the repairs, despite the outstanding claim, because the project is such that it must be done while school is not in session, and he felt that it couldn’t wait another year.

Though Ransom said he can’t predict how much the settlement with PACE will ultimately be, he did say there is “already upwards of $6 (million) to $7 million in damages that have been agreed to.”

“It’s a very big chunk of money, which is why it’s taking so long,” he said.

He admitted the discussions with those representing the insurance company have been contentious.

“I don’t think there has been a single point that didn’t have some element of disagreement,”?he said.

Unlike traditional insurance companies, PACE is a pool that covers many school districts. In previous interviews about this case, a spokesman expressed that PACE has to be careful not to pay out for a claim that is not supportable, which could result in higher premiums for all users.

Some of the most hotly contested portions of the claim have been the cost of the modulars the high school has been using in lieu of the fire-damaged wing and the replacement of certain portions of air duct that the district believes were too smoke-damaged to be cleaned.

The settlement’s goal would be to restore the high school to its condition before the fire. Any further upgrades would be at the district’s expense, and Ransom said the school board would be willing to pay some out-of-pocket costs.

Despite the long, trying process, Ransom seemed optimistic.

“I think we will ultimately end up being OK with what we settle on,”?he said.

Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1195.




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