The North East Independent School District sustained at least $1.5 million in damage from last month’s historic winter storm, and costs across the area could increase as districts continue to survey facilities and make repairs.

The subfreezing temperatures and power outages led to burst pipes and destroyed heating and cooling systems, closing several campuses for days. While schools are eligible for federal disaster assistance, the unexpected costs have compounded financial woes caused by pandemic-related purchases.

The winter storm damaged at least 82 North East ISD facilities, with problems ranging from a frozen outdoor faucet to a fire sprinkler line break that resulted in major flooding at Thousand Oaks Elementary School, Barry Lanford, facility maintenance and operations executive director, said at a school board meeting. He estimated NEISD suffered at least $1.5 million in damage, not including labor costs.

About half of that estimate will go toward replacing five air-cooled chillers at Churchill High School, Bush Middle School, and Garner Middle School, Lanford said. The district planned to rent chillers for both middle schools until replacements could be installed.

“Those are big-ticket items, but fortunately because it’s not in the dead of summer, we’re able to still have enough cooling capacity at those schools,” district spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said.

In Northside ISD, two campuses closed Feb. 22 – Mora Elementary School and Harlan High School – and switched to all-remote instruction for that school day. Harlan closed because of a broken water line, and Mora did not have running water, said Leroy San Miguel, assistant superintendent for facilities and operations. District staff also repaired frozen water lines and air-conditioning coils at four other campuses.

San Miguel estimated that the storm caused about $45,000 in damage, but he expected facilities would need another $30,000 in repairs by the time NISD staff finished surveying all 140 district buildings. The school board approved a resolution last week to allow the district to bypass the usual bid process and immediately hire contractors if further emergency repairs are needed.

Other districts had little damage to report. Southside ISD estimated the winter storm would cost the district $50,000 to repair a leak in the agriculture barn that houses students’ animals, spokesman Randy Escamilla said. The school district plans to file an insurance claim.

NEISD and NISD each have insurance deductibles of $100,000. Chancellor said NEISD has already filed an insurance claim and will apply for any federal emergency funding or other grants available. San Miguel said he did not expect NISD’s damage to surpass the $100,000 threshold, but the district is looking into applying for relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Federal relief likely will reimburse 75% of expenses, according to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

The Texas Education Agency sent a survey to superintendents to estimate district costs not covered by insurance or FEMA relief. That information might be used to help the state determine whether to direct funds to school districts.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.