When students of PS 207 left school on Friday, Oct. 26, no one believed the next time they’d return to their classrooms again would be in 2013.
But when Sandy struck Queens three days later, the school in the Rockwood Park section of Howard Beach fell victim to the hurricane’s storm surge.
Sandy’s floodwaters rose around the school to nearly six feet, flooding the basement. When the storm cleared, the damage was extensive; 17 feet of salt water sat in the basement, mixing with 32,000 gallons of heating oil that spilled as a result of the flood. The school’s electric system was destroyed and needed to be replaced.
The DOE announced in November it had planned to open the school when students returned from the winter break on Jan. 2, though many were skeptical the work could be done in time.
The school was visited by top city officials, including Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott in November to announce funding for citywide post-Sandy infrastructure repair.
At the time, the school was cold, dreary and dark — power was still out to the building. Plastic lined the floors and the faint smell of bleach lingered throughout the corridors. Construction workers wearing hardhats and jeans caked in dust and soot roamed the classrooms.
For those who were able to peek inside the school, it seemed impossible to believe it would be ready for class by January. In fact rumors spread through the neighborhood after the storm that the damage was so severe, the school would have to be torn down completely and rebuilt.
Since the hurricane, the basement has been thoroughly cleaned, asbestos abatement has been performed, power has been restored, and temporary boilers have been installed. On Jan. 2, students returned from their winter break — not to their temporary host schools, but back to PS 207.
The students had been temporarily relocated elsewhere since New York City schools reopened a week after the hurricane. Most of PS 207’s students were sent to PS 232 in Lindenwood, but some were sent to Spring Creek Educational Campus in East New York, Brooklyn and others to Long Island City.
Jennifer Fernandes has two children in PS 207 — a son in sixth grade and a daughter in fourth grade. After Sandy, both children went to different schools. Her daughter was relocated to PS 232, but her son was sent to Long Island City for two weeks before both children were sent to class at Spring Creek. Fernandes said she had few complaints about the relocation.
“The buses were fine, everything was fine,” she said. “The kids really liked the school.”
Parents at some schools that were damaged by the storm — such as PS 114 in Rockaway — expressed concern about whether or not the schools were actually safe, but Fernandes said she and other parents were not concened with PS 207.
She said the school administration kept parents regularly updated on the situation both at the relocated sites and at the PS 207 building.
“They did a really good job keeping us informed,” she said.