Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Department of Education say every school forced to close because of damage from Sandy will eventually reopen, and while some will welcome back students as early as Tuesday, at least six schools will be closed until 2013. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
In the basement of P.S. 207 Rockwood Park in the Howard Beach section of Queens, water reached the ceiling, drowning student records from the past several decades and curriculum materials meant for the next several years. It also took out the schools' electrical and heating equipment.
By Monday, the water is finally gone, but the school, like a dozen others, now has an oil spill to clean up. Between 14,000 to 15,000 gallons poured into the basement, because the tanks had been refilled in preparation for the storm.
"If you're in a situation like this, you need the oil because you might not be able to get delivery, so they filled the tanks, which was a smart thing to do," said a worker. "But then when the flood came in, it turned out to be a problem."
"Currently repair crews are pumping fuel oil out of the school's basement. You can smell it in the air," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters at P.S. 207 on Monday.
The Department of Education says of the 79 schools that it found to be most seriously damaged, more than half will be reopened in their original buildings by Tuesday.
"It's a very complicated process that we've been going through," said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
About 18,000 students attend the remaining 37 schools. DOE officials anticipates most of them will be back in their buildings by the end of the month.
But at least six schools won't be ready to reopen until the new year. They are P.S. 207, P.S. 256 Annex and P.S. 105 The Bay School in Queens, Millennium High School and P.S. M226 in Manhattan and P.S. 288 The Shirley Tanyhill in Brooklyn.
Crews have been working seven days a week to get schools back in shape, pumping water out, repairing electrical lines and shoveling ruined supplies out into dumpsters.
Opening the buildings is just the first step. Then they will have to work on replacing books, electronic equipment and furniture and repairing ruined playgrounds and schoolyards.
As men in hazmat suits worked to clear oil from P.S. 207, parents and children showed up outside the school to ask the Chancellor when they could go back.
"At this point, the kids really miss the school. They just want to get back into the school. They do need that normalcy brought back to them," said Ann Marie Grillo, a parent of a student at P.S. 207.
But the smell of oil, even outside many of these schools, burned the back of one's throat after a few minutes on Monday, underscoring how big a job it is to clean up the inside so it's safe for students.