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With No Flood Insurance, Spencer School Takes A Big Hit

Cris Pasto (left) discusses clean-up operations in the gym at North Spencer Christian Academy.

A private school in Tioga county needs close to $100,000 in repairs after flooding early last week. Clean-up work at is underway, but the school does not have flood insurance, despite its location along a creek.

North Spencer Christian Academy filled with nearly 100 volunteers after the flood water receded. They removed debris, and now they’re vacuuming up the last traces of water. Cris Pasto vacuums muddy water off stairs leading to the school’s lower level. He has deep connections here.

“I went to school here at one point, and attended this church,” he says. “It’s my parents’ church, and my daughter comes to this school. Her classroom was one of the ones that was floating.”

Water flooded five classrooms in the school’s lower level, along with the gym, school kitchen and science lab. Steve Barrows is pastor of the church attached to the school. He points to a wall where bare studs are showing. “The water in here was over both of our heads,” he says. “It was almost six feet deep.”

Barrows says the building doesn’t have flood insurance, so the school has to fundraise for repairs. The last time the building flooded, in 2004, Barrows says they considered buying coverage, but they couldn’t afford it.

“Somebody could look at us today and say, ‘Can you afford, in hindsight, not to have had flood insurance?’ That’s a theoretical question,” he says. “We didn’t, so this is what we’ve got to deal with.”

Currently, part of the school is in a flood zone. That’s new since area flood maps were redrawn in 2012. Barrows says in addition to the high cost of insurance, he didn’t know he was in a designated danger zone until tragedy struck. Jayme Breschard Thomann, a certified floodplain manager at the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, says that’s pretty normal. She says flood maps change as new construction happens. Surfaces like concrete change how rainwater flows, but sometimes property owners aren’t in the loop.

“If they’re not required to carry the flood insurance, and the flood maps change, is there anyone going out and providing that information to homeowners? Sometimes life gets so hectic and busy people are not listening or looking out for those opportunities, and that’s how there is this miscommunication,” Thomann says.

Pastor Steve Barrows says flood maps aren’t the only problem, though. He blames a bridge under the road right next to the school for the disaster. It’s a culvert bridge, which means water flows under it in narrow metal pipes. Barrows says those pipes got clogged.

“The debris had backed up on the upstream side of the culverts and dammed it up, and there was over two feet of water rushing over where we’re standing right now,” he says, standing on the bank of the creek.

Barrows wants the Department of Transportation to replace the bridge with a clear-span model. He says that would remove the flood risk. Meanwhile, North Spencer Christian Academy will rebuild, in the same location and without insurance. Barrows says moving would be too expensive. He takes it on faith that the bridge will be replaced. However, he’s also taking some practical precautions.

“The Lord brings the rains,” he says, “But he also expects us to be smart about this, so we had engineers in here last week to look at the possibility of building a barrier wall.”

Barrows says that could make a big difference the next time the water rises.