Howard Beach’s PS 207 may have been the most heavily damaged school in Queens by Hurricane Sandy.
The school, at 159-15 88 St., is in the heart of the heavily residential Rockwood Park section of the neighborhood that was hit hard by Sandy’s storm surge last year.
The school was devastated. Twelve feet of water flooded the basement, bursting open the school’s oil tanks, causing 3,000 gallons of oil to flood the basement along with the water. The power and heating systems were also destroyed. The auditorium was also flooded in the storm.
Although most schools in the disaster zone — including the neighborhood’s other public school, PS 146 — were able to reopen fairly quickly, PS 207 remained closed for over two months, forcing students to attend classes in other schools in Brooklyn and as far away as Long Island City until it reopened last January after Christmas break.
The damaged school played host to Mayor Bloomberg and several city leaders, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Comptroller John Liu and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, for a press conference several weeks after Sandy in which they announced the investment of city money into damaged schools in the four hard-hit boroughs: Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island.
But that money did not go to fix at least one important piece of equipment at the school.
Since the school reopened in January, it has been without a fire alarm system.
To allow the school to hold the mandated fire drills, the city Department of Education hired 12 “fire watchers,” whose job it is to watch for fires during the school day. According to multiple sources and at least one published report, the watchers are getting paid $13,000 a week to look out for fires in the school.
But finally the alarm bell may ring again soon in PS 207.
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) announced this week that nearly $2 million will be released from the $67 billion Sandy aid package to focus on repairs at PS 207 specifically.
The grant, which comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency awards $1,861,901.33 in federal funds to the School Construction Authority for emergency repairs undertaken at PS 207 post-Sandy. The 48-year-old school sustained over $2 million in damage during the hurricane. It was so severe that a rumor, later debunked to parents by Walcott in person, spread in the neighborhood that the school would need to be demolished and rebuilt. The funding will reimburse 90 percent of the cost of repairs on the building.
Angelica Katz, chief of staff to Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) confirmed that those fixes will include a new fire alarm system for the school. Several other schools in Sandy-affected zones, including Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park, also had fire alarm problems, but they have since been fixed.
The DOE did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the fire alarm issue, but a source close to the department said the city was unable to replace the alarm system until federal aid money was cleared and given to the SCA.
“[The SCA] expected to have that money months ago,” the source said. “Unfortunately it was delayed.”
Furthermore, the DOE was not able to use funds it had to repair the system because it was not allocated to the SCA, who oversees school construction, renovations and repairs.
More than $5 million in FEMA funds were given to the SCA in September for repairs at three Rockaway schools.
At the school on Wednesday, parents were happy to hear that PS 207 would be getting funds to fix the fire alarm, but cynicism was still prevalent.
“It’s ridiculous and we never got any answers from anybody as to what they’re going to do or when they’re going to fix it,” said one parent of a fourth grader who did not want to be identified. “It seems like something so simple and stupid to fix.”
She added that the school did not have any fire drills between January through June, but wasn’t sure if any were held this school year.