It was back to school for city students Wednesday, including some Queens kids who are now back in their own schools for the first time since Hurricane Sandy. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
On the first school day of 2013, students at P.S. 207 were finally back in their building.
"I am so happy to be back in 207," said one student. "I missed it a lot."
Students skipped into the building, which some said looked better than ever. Clean floors gleamed, and the auditorium sports a polished new stage. But just a few weeks ago, P.S. 207 was a wreck.
"The parents were under the impression that the building would have to be torn down, quite frankly, because the building was so severely damaged," said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
Two weeks after the storm, the P.S. 207 schoolyard was filled with ruined furniture, equipment and supplies. Inside, everything was covered in dust and smelled like oil.
"We had roughly 17 feet of water down in the basement," Walcott said. "The oil tanks ruptured. Trucks outside pumping water like crazy. We had hazmat units here. We had to deal with asbestos issues. So quite frankly, for the type of damage that was at this building, the school has turned around rather quickly."
Now, the basement is cleared out and cleaned up. The electricity is back on, though the boilers will have to be replaced. Like several other schools, this one is being heated by a temporary, exterior system. All that's left of the maintenance equipment is a few shovels and brooms. Everything else, from vacuums to snow blowers to lawnmowers, was destroyed.
Some parents said they remain concerned about the air quality in the school, even though the DOE said a range of environmental tests showed it's safe.
Of the dozens of schools initially taken out by the storm, almost all have returned. By the end of December, 5,400 students were still relocated. By January 11, they should all be back.
But the incredible scope and speed of the cleanup effort comes at a price, likely hundreds of millions of dollars.
"We've spent the money, and we have a responsibility to spend the money to make sure our schools are open," Walcott said. "We can't have our children and students and families homeless."
The students used the same term to describe their school.
"Being back home after weeks and weeks of traveling, it's remarkable," said one. "Home sweet home."