WATERLOO — A district court judge has sided with an insurance company that claims it doesn’t have to pay to rebuild the former Lowell Elementary School following a 2019 roof collapse.

The Waterloo Community School District took Employers Mutual Casualty Co. to court saying the carrier refused to honor its policy — which included additional ordinance and law coverage — filing a suit seeking at least $19 million in Polk County District Court in Des Moines in 2021.

Employers Mutual agreed to pay for the collapsed roof but said the rest of the loss wasn’t covered under the policy and asked the court to throw out the suit.

In a ruling issued last month, Judge Jeffrey Bert granted the insurance company’s motion for a summary judgment and assessed court costs to the school district.

“The court finds that the Ordinance or Law Additional Coverage does not provide coverage for the age deterioration outside the area of collapse. … The policy excludes loss or damage caused by deterioration,” Bert wrote in his ruling.

People are also reading…

He noted that the original school was built in 1931, and construction methods and building codes have changed.

“To construe this policy to cover the cost to repair undamaged portions of the building to make the building compliant with current building code requirements would cause insurers to reevaluate premiums for older buildings or worse, to decline to insure them at all. In essence, the district’s interpretation converts the policy into a general maintenance contract,” Bert wrote.

The roof of Classroom 208 collapsed during a snow day on Feb. 20, 2019, closing the entire building and routing classes into a retrofitted former Area Education Agency building in Cedar Falls.

Inspectors determined the collapse was the result of heavy snow weighing on aging mortar in the joist pockets.

The incident also triggered a study of the building, which found deteriorating mortar in the walls of parts of the building outside the damaged area. Engineers agreed the school wasn’t safe to occupy without making repairs outside the area of the collapse and the building would have to be brought into compliance with current building codes.

The walls had been built with three layers and aging mortar was found in the load-bearing middle layer. There were no indications the district knew about the deterioration before the collapse and the city never cited the district under the building code, according to court records.

Employers Mutual agreed the collapsed roof was covered by the policy and paid about $1.71 million, according to Courier archives. But it denied coverage for the remaining parts of the school that were still standing, prompting the lawsuit.

In the meantime, demolition of the old school began in May 2020 and construction of the new Lowell Elementary started shortly thereafter. The new school was open for students in 2022.

Related Posts