Burning costs: Arson ignites schools' big insurance claims

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 08:36 06/01/2014

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Burglars raiding Waikato schools have triggered more than $340,000 worth of insurance claims over recent years.

But the figure is a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.49 million worth of claims for fire and extreme weather damage.

Latest figures show insurance payouts to Waikato schools under the Ministry of Education's Risk Management scheme have totalled $572,000 since 2007.

Burglaries accounted for $340,153 of that and lightning strikes caused more than $14,538 worth of damage in six separate incidents.

The figures do not account for 45 per cent of Waikato schools that don't opt in to the scheme.

Claims under the ministry's Catastrophic Loss policy - for damage from earthquakes, fire and extreme weather - have totalled $2.49 million since 2008.

The most expensive single claim was $638,153 for fire damage at Hamilton East School in April, 2009.

The Waikato Times reported at the time that a block of five classrooms was damaged by the blaze, which was believed to be arson.

It appeared that someone had set fire to tree cuttings and placed them in an alcove between the rooms.

Whangamata Area School principal Ross Preece said he had a verbal agreement from the ministry to pay out $670,000 for a new technology block after the old one was destroyed by fire in November 2012. However, he was disappointed by the ministry's handling of the case, considering the estimated cost to rebuild the workshop to original specifications was $1.8 million.

"From our point of view it's not as good as what we had, but it's certainly better than what the ministry initially proposed offering us," Mr Preece said.

"They're not different to any other insurance company in that they look for a reason to get out of it as cheaply as possible." A 17-year-old student was initially charged with setting fire to the building with matches, but the charge was later dropped.

Te Awamutu Intermediate principal Dale McCabe said his dealings with the ministry's insurance had been "very positive".

The school was paid out $5030 for storm damage to trees and buildings in 2011, and more than $300,000 for fire damage to classrooms and toilets in 2012.

"We did very well out of it."

The fire was started by a student playing with a lighter in the toilet and damaged the toilet block, cloak room and two classrooms.

The technology block at Fairfield Intermediate School in Hamilton was also seriously damaged by fire in June 2011, but the insurance claim has not yet been settled.

jonathan.carson@waikatotimes.co.nz

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