ERWIN — While officials with the Unicoi County School System are still working with the system’s insurance provider, Director of Schools Denise Brown said Friday she is confident the cost of relocating Love Chapel Elementary School students will be covered.
Brown said she spoke with John Wilburn, trust administrator for Risk Management Trust, the school system’s insurer, on March 15, one day after the Unicoi County Board of Education approved a long-term relocation plan for displaced Love Chapel students and educators.
Brown said Wilburn has reached out to Travelers, the insurance underwriter, but has not received a reply. Brown said she also met with Wilburn last week while in Nashville. Brown said both she and Wilburn agree that with the way the relocation clause is written in the insurance policy, the insurance will cover the relocation costs.
“It’s pretty well written out that they have to pay for any type of relocation while anything is being done or decided about the building,” Brown said.
The school system’s attorney has also reviewed the policy and is in agreement that relocation will be covered, Brown said.
“We all feel certain that they have to pay for it, so if they come back and say they wouldn’t, then it would be litigation with the insurance,” Brown said.
On March 14, the Board of Education approved a relocation plan that would see a dozen modular units purchased and placed on property located behind Unicoi County Intermediate School. Brown previously said these modulars will provide space for 24 classrooms, that grade levels will be grouped together on the site, and separate modulars will be set up for Love Chapel administrative offices, library, and computer lab space and a dining area.
Brown said school officials looked at several properties before opting to utilize the Intermediate School area. She said a number of items, including proper transportation access, utilities and requirements of state code, had to be taken into consideration when potential sites were being looked at.
“I think we tried to look at all the options we had, things that would work well,” she said.
Bids for the modular units went out March 15, and Brown said she hopes to have the responses in by around April 11. After officials check the responses to make sure they are in accordance with the specifications of the advertised bid, they will be presented to the school board for its approval on April 18, if not sooner, Brown said.
If all goes according to plan, the necessary site work and installation of the modulars will be complete by the end of July, in time for Love Chapel students to begin classes there when school resumes in August after the summer break. The modulars will be leased for three years, which Brown said will buy officials time to decide how they will address a new building for Love Chapel students.
The question of what will become of the current building should be answered when the insurance matter is settled, Brown said. She said the immediate concern is the relocation of the students and staff.
On Feb. 14, the Board of Education voted to permanently close the school after an engineering firm’s report indicated several areas on the property showed risk of developing future sinkhole activity. The school had been closed since Aug. 18 when a large sinkhole was found to have opened on its grounds. A short-term relocation plan, which was implemented on Aug. 27 and remains in effect, saw Love Chapel students in kindergarten through second grade relocated to Unicoi County Intermediate School and third-grade students were relocated to Unicoi County Middle School.
Although Brown said the staff members at these three schools have made the temporary relocation plan work, she said space limitations made it necessary to find Love Chapel faculty and students a place of their own.
“We have speech and music and classes on the stage and in every little corner we can. You’ve got the secretaries sitting there at the door,” Brown said. “It’s not a viable situation to continue in. It’s worked for this year.”
Brown also said feedback on the relocation plan from members of the community and Love Chapel staff has been positive.
“The teachers, I went and met with them before the board meeting, and they were very supportive and were excited that they’re going to have a place where they’ve got space,” Brown said.