By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Four months after Hurricane Sandy hit the city, the school system is now back on its feet, according to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who offered a comprehensive overview of how the Department of Education handled the aftermath of the storm in testimony he delivered before the City Council.
Fifty school buildings were severely damaged, approximately 300 school buses were destroyed, and nearly 75,000 students in 61 schools were displaced and needed to be relocated by the super-storm, Walcott testified at a hearing held by the council’s Education Committee on Feb. 26.
“Hurricane Sandy was an unprecedented and devastating event for our city. Sadly, many New Yorkers, including many of our students and families, teachers, principals and other staff were personally affected by the storm,” Walcott testified.
“In the hardest hit areas in parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, many were evacuated or in some cases went weeks without electricity or heat. Some even lost loved ones, their homes, and all their possessions,” he said.
The Brooklyn neighborhoods of Coney Island and Gerritsen Beach were among the hardest hit in the city by the superstorm, officials said.
In the days after the hurricane, the Dept. of Education “faced significant challenges,” Walcott said. All New York City public schools were closed for at least five days following the storm.
“In those critical first few days, our goal was to ensure that our 1.1 million students had everything they needed in order to get back in the classroom safely, quickly, and with all the necessary supports in place,” the chancellor testified.
In addition to the 50 schools that sustained severe damage, another 72 buildings had some storm related damage, according to Walcott, who said the damage included flooding, boiler damage, non-working phone lines and the loss of power and heat.
“Most of the damage was caused by flooding. In some cases the flooding occurred only in the basements and in some buildings the flood waters reached the first floor. Water damage included submerged boilers and electrical switches, complicating the return of power and heat to many buildings. There was also water damage to gym floors and auditoriums. Flooding and wind tipped over fuel tanks, causing oil leaks in seven buildings,” Walcott told the council members.
The Division of School Facilities and the School Construction Authority operated in around-the-clock shifts, pumping thousands of gallons of water out of basements, installing 22 temporary or replacement boilers, and removing and replacing Sheetrock walls. Electricity and heat were restored in 33 buildings within five days, Walcott said.
But several schools had to relocate students and staff to other buildings until repairs could be made, Walcott said.
There was also a human cost, the chancellor said. “Some school communities were particularly devastated by the storm. In these schools the majority of students and their families were personally affected,” he said, adding that counselors were brought in to assist students, teachers, and parents.
Walcott testified that while all of the schools are back in their home buildings, “our work related to Hurricane Sandy is far from over.” Repairs are still going on in many school buildings. “There are still gymnasium floors and athletic fields to repair,” he said.