Standing directly across the street from the main entrance to PS 207 in Howard Beach, a handful of parents with their children watched as top city officials stepped out of their vehicles for a press conference inside the school that they are told their children cannot enter.
When Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott showed up for the press conference that would feature Mayor Bloomberg and other city leaders, he strolled across the street to talk to the parents.
“We heard the school may be torn down,” one parent said.
“No, no, no,” Walcott said. “That’s not true.”
Walcott explained that the school suffered severe damage from Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge in its basement and more than 32,000 gallons of oil had to be pumped out. The chancellor invited the children to come across the street next to the oil pumping truck and he explained to them — and their concerned parents — how the city was fixing their school building.
Most students who attend PS 207, which serves kindergarten through eighth grade, have been temporarily relocated to PS 232 in Lindenwood.
A parent of a student who attends PS 232 said the situation is tough at the school and some classes have 50 to 60 students in them, but she credited the principal, Lisa Josephson, for handling the situation well.
“She’s very organized, she has things under control,” the parent said.
Originally students from PS 207 were to be relocated to Spring Creek Educational Campus in East New York, but the Department of Education changed the location at the request of parents.
Louisa Gaskell was one of the parents whose children were relocated. Her daughters, Grace and Jessica, were assigned to PS 232, but Gaskell — who said her husband, Gregory, nearly drowned in the storm surge during the hurricane — has not sent her kids back to school yet.
“They’ve been staying with their grandparents,” she said. “We have had no heat, no electricity.”
Gaskell said the power went back on in her house over the weekend, but her concern is over the future of the school she lives a block from.
“I hadn’t heard the rumors that it was condemned,” she said. “I would hope the city would fix the school.”
The school has not been condemned and the plan is to repair it.
Inside, the school feels like a cave. No heat for more than two weeks has left the building colder than the outside air. The floors are covered with plastic tarps and workers in reflective vests covered in grease, dirt and some oil scurry in and out of classrooms where laughing, talking children typically congregate before a lesson.
The reek of oil permeates the hallways of the school. Even the mayor noted the smell.
Even while the school is being repaired, local kids are still able to use the playground, which officials say does not pose a threat to the children.
The goal, Walcott said, is to get the school up and running as soon as possible and though he did not give a specific timetable, he said he hoped the school could be ready for occupancy by January.
“We need to make sure this is a safe environment for our students,” he told one parent. “But we want to get these kids back into their own schools, fast.”
Two other public schools in the area — PS 146 in Old Howard Beach and Broad Channel’s PS 47 — reopened Tuesday. Both suffered minor damage in the storm, but were able to welcome students back once power was restored.