Delays & Roadblocks From FEMA When Considering Application For New Elementary School Building Left Children Without A Local School And Left Residents To Shoulder The Cost To Rebuild

 Senator Played Key Role In Successfully Securing $24 Million In Fed Funding That Made Building New School A Reality 

Schumer: Owego Students Once Again Have Their Own School To Call Home


U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today stood with students, teachers, parents and school administration as he cut the ribbon on the new Owego Elementary School. The new school was built after the former elementary school was severely damaged beyond repair in 2011 during Tropical Storm Lee. Schumer fought hard in the wake of the storm to cut through red tape at the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) – which initially put up roadblocks that threatened to hold up construction and place an immense financial burden on residents – to make the project a reality. After poking, prodding and cutting through FEMA’s red tape, including by meeting directly with the FEMA Administrator, Schumer successfully secured the $24 million in federal funding to construct the school and ensure it was built above the floodplain.

“Over the last few years, we have pushed, prodded and poked FEMA to step up to the plate and award the Owego Apalachin Central School District the funding it needed to relocate and rebuild the facilities that were severely damaged in Tropical Storm Lee. While it has been an uphill battle, we never gave up. With today’s official opening of the new Owego Elementary School, we finally move away from cutting through red tape, to cutting through red ribbon,” said Schumer. “Thanks to the hard work of those standing here today, the Owego Elementary School once again has its own school to call home.”

Schumer explained Tropical Storm Lee wreaked havoc on Tioga County and its public facilities in September 2011, causing severe damage to public infrastructure and leaving much of the Village of Owego inundated with water. The Owego Apalachin Central School District’s facilities were particularly damaged, with five of its seven buildings badly damaged, and four rendered uninhabitable, including the Owego Elementary School, the district’s administration building and its storage and maintenance facilities. The high school, middle school and athletic complex and fields also suffered major damage.

Schumer was joined by Owego Apalachin Central School District Superintendent William C. Russell; School Board President David Bartom; Owego Elementary School Principal Laurie McKeveny; Village of Owego Mayor Steve May; and New York State Senator Fred Akshar.

“Senator Schumer was a true champion for our school district as we encountered difficult obstacles along our path to recovery. The senator stepped forward at critical junctures to break logjams along the way. It's been a long, difficult road, and we would not have arrived at this point, to dedicate our new school and look across campus to see two more important structures heading toward completion, without Senator Schumer's assistance. He shared our sense of urgency, and today, we have reached the finish line,” said Owego Apalachin Central School District Superintendent William C. Russell.

Following the storm, Schumer, alongside Owego Apalachin Central School District Superintendent William C. Russell, got to work to secure federal funding to repair and replace buildings most damaged by the storm on its campus, including the elementary school, the district’s administration building and its storage and maintenance facilities. After the storm, a team of local experts, including engineers and architects, assessed public infrastructure and the cost for repairs. After five months of this work, the District Team submitted its cost analysis to a FEMA Public Assistance Team that reviewed and validated the work. However, that team was replaced by a different group of FEMA officials that imposed additional requirements on Tioga County officials, such as repeated requests for documentation of damage to buildings, which only extended the timeline for repairs. At that point, Schumer weighed in and pushed the agency to reverse course. In April 2012, Schumer sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate outlining the agency’s roadblocks and calling on FEMA to approve the original damage estimate findings. The next month, Schumer met directly with Administrator Fugate to bring to his attention the several recovery projects being held up by bureaucratic red tape, including the reconstruction of Owego Elementary School.

By June 2012, after Schumer’s urging, FEMA had agreed to fund the replacement of the flood-ridden Owego Apalachin School District facilities, including Owego Elementary School. Over the course of the following year, Schumer continued to pressure FEMA to actually obligate the funds needed to get these repair and replacement projects moving, so the Owego Apalachin School District could begin construction of the new elementary school without passing a massive financial burden onto taxpayers. In 2013, Schumer announced that FEMA had finally obligated a total of $24,122,975.40 in funds for the construction of the elementary school. Since the construction groundbreaking in November 2013, this project has been moving along thanks to the hard work and persistence of Schumer and Superintendent Russell. The newly completed Owego Elementary School first opened for classes in January of this year, more than 1,500 days after the flooding occurred. Today, Schumer and Russel officially cut the ribbon on the new school after years of poking, prodding and cutting through FEMA’s red tape to make the new school a reality.

In addition to the elementary school, Schumer urged FEMA to officially obligate funds for the much-needed construction of the school district’s administration building, as well as its maintenance and storage facilities. Schumer urged the relocation of damaged school facilities away from the floodplain. In November 2014, Schumer petitioned Administrator Fugate to support the facilities relocation under the 428 procedure, which authorizes alternative procedures for debris removal and repair, restoration, and replacement of disaster-damaged public and private nonprofit facilities under the Public Assistance (PA) program, giving applicants more flexibility to complete their project. In March 2015, Schumer announced FEMA had officially obligated $5,774,749.20 for the construction of a new administration building. This was the first installment of approximately $11,401,379.04 in funding that FEMA had agreed to. In September 2015, Schumer announced FEMA had finally obligated the second portion of the more than $11.4 million, which would allow the school district to rebuild the maintenance and storage facilities as well.


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