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Cathedral arbitration nearing completion

Date: 6/6/2013

By Chris Maza

SPRINGFIELD — With the two-year anniversary of the June 1, 2011 tornado that ravaged the Pioneer Valley now in the rearview mirror, the Diocese of Springfield may soon have a clearer view of the road that lay in front of Cathedral High School as it continues its recovery efforts.

Mark Dupont, secretary for Communications for the Diocese, told Reminder Publications that the arbitration process to determine the level of insurance reimbursement for the school would be coming to a close shortly.

The building, which Cathedral had called home since 1959 and had housed St. Michael's Academy Middle School since 2009, suffered heavy damage, the worst sustained by the north side of the building — where the Science Wing was severely affected and a wall of the recently renovated gymnasium was blown out — and the west side, which included the middle school entrance.

Attorneys for the Diocese and its insurer, Catholic Mutual Group, participated in final hearings and a final on-site visit to the school late last week, Dupont explained.

"I have been told by our attorneys to expect a decision by July," he said.

Cathedral entered into arbitration after receiving what Diocese attorney Jack Egan referred to as a "lowball" offer from the Omaha, Neb., based insurance company in early April 2012.

Catholic Mutual stated its willingness to provide $15 million for repairs to the building. The Diocese has maintained its stance that it would need approximately $70 million to completely rebuild the facility.

In the meantime, St. Michael's Academy Middle School students have been attending classes at the site of the elementary school, the former Holy Cross School in Springfield, while Cathedral High School has relocated to the closed Memorial School located at 310 Main St. in Wilbraham, for which the Diocese pays an annual rent of $360,000.

Memorial School, a 17-room elementary school built in 1950, was closed in 2010 when the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District underwent restructuring.

Dupont said he anticipates a need for the continued use of the building regardless of the arbitration outcome.

"We're certainly hopeful that we can extend our stay in Wilbraham," he said. "We will most likely need to stay at Memorial School for two more years to maintain Cathedral during this process and potentially more."

During the past two years, the Diocese has made rent payments to the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee. However, the School Committee recently agreed to turn over the building to the Wilbraham Board of Selectmen.

Memorial School is owned by the town of Wilbraham and had been leased by the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District. Because it was a town-owned structure, the selectmen asserted that revenue generated from Cathedral should belong to the town, prompting months of debate between the two entities.

With the new agreement, the Diocese's lease with the School Committee would end on July 1 and a new lease would have to be struck with the Board of Selectmen.

"We have had initial conversations," Dupont said. "We're hopeful that they will continue to be as helpful to the Diocese as they have been over the past two years."