Walcott reveals concerns about PS 207 at hearing

By Karen Frantz

PS 207 in Howard Beach was so badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy that the city Department of Education was initially concerned it would have to be demolished, according to testimony from the department’s chancellor at a City Council oversight hearing on storm preparedness Tuesday.

“There was one school, PS 207, as a matter of fact, where they thought the building would have to be torn down,” city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said at the hearing, which was one of a series investigating the city’s response to Hurricane Sandy.

A spokeswoman for the DOE later clarified the statement, saying that within about a day after first looking at PS 207, the damage was assessed and found to be manageable.

“There were no plans to ever tear it down,” she said. “We were able to repair all the damage.”

But she added, “The initial gut reaction was that it looked really bad.”

At the hearing, Walcott recounted going to the ravaged school for a news conference about two weeks after the storm. PS 207 had suffered severe water damage and an oil spill from leaking tanks. There was no heat or power and debris and sand had infiltrated crawl spaces.

“[PS] 207 had such severe damage, when we walked in the fumes from the oil were just totally overwhelming,” Walcott recalled.

Students were displaced from the school as it was undergoing repairs, with many students going to PS 232 in Lindenwood for classes. PS 207 reopened Jan. 2.

In addition to PS 207, Walcott said Sandy unleashed considerable damage on the city’s schools and bus fleet, with 50 school buildings needing major repairs and about 300 buses destroyed. All city public schools were closed for at least five days.

PS 207 was one of only a handful of schools that did not open Nov. 5, when about 93 percent of the city’s students were able to return to their home schools. By Jan. 7, all schools but the Scholar’s Academy in Rockaway Park were back in their permanent locations.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), whose district was particularly hit by Sandy, commended the department for its work repairing damaged schools.

“We are very thankful for that,” he said, saying the department had also frequently been in his district to engage and answer questions from parents and the school community.

But he questioned the department on reports that contractors cleaning up the Scholar’s Academy allegedly swiped computers from the school.

“Is that true? Was there an investigation?” he asked.

Walcott said the inspector general of the city School Construction Authority reviewed tapes from the school’s security cameras, resulting in the arrest of an individual in connection with the thefts Monday.

Walcott said the DOE will replace stolen items as well as any items damaged during the storm.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4548.

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