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'Lowball' offer sends Diocese to arbitration

Date: 4/9/2012

April 9, 2012

By Katelyn Gendron

SPRINGFIELD — It was a "lowball" offer and one that, ultimately, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield couldn't live with, according to its attorney, Jack Egan.

Diocese personnel and Sr. Andrea Ciszewski, superintendent of schools, joined Egan to announce that they will enter arbitration with insurance carrier, Catholic Mutual, over the cost of repairing Cathedral High School and St. Michael's Academy, following the June 1, 2011 tornado. Egan maintained that it will cost $70 million to rebuild the location, however, Catholic Mutual is only willing to shell out $15 for repairs.

"I feel that we were lowballed. I would use stronger terms than that but I wouldn't use them here," Egan said. "We've got highly skilled consultants [estimating] the cost and the insurance company has their own consultants but we're not just talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, [it's millions]. It's a very significant difference of opinion."

The diocese has nominated its arbitrator, he explained, to join a panel of three who will decide the outcome in six months time.

Approximately 600 of the diocese's 6,500 students were displaced because of the damage, forcing Cathedral students to be moved to the former Memorial Elementary School in Wilbraham, while the pupils at St. Michael's attend classes at the former Holy Cross building in Springfield.

Due to the delay in obtaining funds from Catholic Mutual, the diocese will be requesting a lease extension from Hampden-Wilbraham Regional Schools for an additional 18 months beyond it's initial December 2013 agreement, Egan noted, adding that the diocese currently pays $360,000 annually.

"We're being very conservative on the lease extension but it's just impossible to predict [how much time we'll need]," he said.

Despite the recent disputes over the costs of reconstruction, a small decline in enrollment due to the tornado and its "disruption the learning process," Ciszewski said she and her staff are looking toward the future with hope.

"We've worked on an educational component for the future and look to possibilities for the future. We're just waiting for the dollars right now," she said.

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