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GCS Receives $10.1 Million Insurance Settlement for Three Tornado-damaged Schools

May 30, 2019 – Guilford County Schools announced today that it has received a $10.1 million settlement agreement from The Travelers Indemnity Corporation (Travelers). The negotiated settlement agreement was reached more than one year after an EF 2 tornado devasted three elementary schools in East Greensboro on April 15, 2018.

The three schools – Erwin Montessori, Hampton and Peeler Open – have been sharing space with other district schools since last spring. Prior to the tornado, the three schools did not fare well on an assessment conducted by MGT Consulting Group for the Guilford County Board of Education and the Board of County Commissioners.

Hampton received an overall score of 52 percent and the lowest possible rating of unsatisfactory, while Erwin and Peeler received scores of 63 and 60 and ratings of poor, respectively. The study recommended repurposing or closing Hampton.

“The schools were not in good shape prior to the tornado, so we knew going into negotiations that securing enough money to replace them wasn’t likely,” said Scott McCully, chief operating officer. Given the condition of the facilities, McCully said the district was pleased with the settlement.

To accommodate the needs of the students and staff impacted by the tornado and preserve the damaged buildings, the district has spent approximately $4 million since last spring to transport students; salvage, relocate and purchase equipment and materials; convert storage spaces to classrooms; paint and refurbish student spaces; maintain HVAC systems; secure buildings and grounds; remove storm-related debris; and pay utilities, among other expenses.

Across the state, new elementary school construction costs in 2018 ranged from a low of

$13.9 million for fewer than 500 students to $29.6 million for 800 or more students, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s School Planning Division. Hunter Elementary School, which opened in 2017, cost about $19 million.

“If you total a used car, you get less money than you would if you total a new car. The same is true for facilities,” said McCully, noting that nearly 50 percent of district schools were rated as being in either poor or unsatisfactory condition on the recent study. Only 35 percent of GCS school buildings were assessed as being in either good or excellent condition. The average school in GCS is more than 50 years old.

“We have aging facilities and aging systems that we’ve kept going long past their estimated life cycles,” McCully said. “This issue, combined with a 30-year history of chronic underfunding of our maintenance and repair budgets by our funding bodies, has created the estimated $800 million maintenance backlog and $1.2 billion in facility needs identified by our recent study.”

On May 14, 2019, the Board of Education voted to close Hampton permanently, citing the condition of the building and its proximity to a former landfill that is monitored by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. The district plans to use part of the insurance proceeds to design a new Hampton-Peeler School for East Greensboro, with the rest of the funding coming from a future bond issue. 

North Carolina school boards do not have taxing authority and cannot place tax increases or school bond measures on the ballot; only county commissioners have that authority. Per state law, local county governments are responsible for providing capital funding for school building maintenance, repairs, renovations and new construction.