Phase one of project reconstructing Woodburn High School after the 2012 fire will go ahead without final amount confirmed by insurance

It’s been two years since Woodburn citizens looked up into the clear blue skies and saw plumes of black smoke swelling above Woodburn High School.

It’s been two years that students and staff have put up with cement floors instead of carpet, patched walls and blockades preventing them from certain classrooms.

But Woodburn School District officials are planning on changing that by starting reconstruction of phase one, the part of the high school that wasn’t burned, but was still damaged in the May 11, 2012 fire. Because of the extent of repairs — more than $1.3 million — work can’t be done while school is in session.

“We thought, ‘Can we, in good conscious, put this off until summer 2015?’” Superintendent Chuck Ransom said. “The answer is no.”

The district is doing so without having things fully resolved with the insurance company PACE (Property and Casualty Coverage for Education), as there’s a debate over whether the air ducts need to be replaced or simply cleaned. Additionally, the two entities still haven’t agreed on payment for the burned-out area of the building.

“Some of the ducts are definitely OK to clean, but the debate is that some are difficult to clean and they could be damaged in the process,” Superintendent Chuck Ransom said.

He said that despite the unsettled dollar amount, the minute school closes, district officials say they plan to have a contractor in the building working on what they call phase one, which is the affected area where water damage occurred, such as flooring and wall siding. Phase two is the burned area.

The repair of phase one has been awarded to Skyward Construction, based out of Ridgefield, Wash., which will conduct the repairs for $1,375,963, assuming the air ducts need to be replaced.

“We’re prepared to pay the difference,” Ransom said. “We can’t wait another summer to have work done.”

The solution for phase two, which includes the boarded off area, has yet to be decided, and district officials are not shy to admit it could lead to litigation.

“One of three things will happen,” Ransom said. “Either we will settle and they’ll pay out; we’ll settle in mediation or we’ll settle in court.”

At this point, the first mediation meeting is tentatively scheduled for the last week of June, Ransom said.

In Oregon, two years is the statute of limitations for an insurance settlement, but both Woodburn School District and PACE mutually agreed to extend that by six months.

Ransom said the two parties agreed to continue beyond what would normally be the statute of limitations, which is the two-year mark.

“We agreed to extend that six months because we’re close to settlement,” he explained.

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