Queens sixth-grader Kaitlyn Sautner remembers Hurricane Sandy not from a textbook, but more as an interactive lesson.
Five years ago the floodwaters rushed like a river through Rockaway Beach, engulfing her home, Scholars’ Academy, where she attends school, and every other structure in sight.
Now Kaitlyn’s part of a group of students renovating the campus yard, the last step in the school’s long recovery from the superstorm.
“It feels good,” said Kaitlyn, 10, who meets with other members of the gardening club twice a week after class. “A lot of people are still struggling, but everybody is pitching in.”
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Scholars’ Academy, on the skinny Queens peninsula between Jamaica Bay and the ocean, suffered severe damage due to Sandy. Flooding at the 1,376-student school required more than $20 million in repairs, including new interior spaces, a new boiler and new central air conditioning.
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The work at Scholars’ Academy just wrapped up over the summer, prompting Principal Brian O’Connell to praise his buff new gym, as well as the reconstructed theater, music rooms and lockers.
“The day-to-day grind was the hardest part of recovering from the storm,” said O’Connell. “But now we’re getting there. We’re grateful.”
But for many other city schools, the work continues.
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In total, 42 school buildings containing 79 schools required repairs or maintenance as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
Work has been completed at 25 of those buildings. All of the buildings are open for use as the $540 million tab to fix them keeps climbing.
About 94,000 students attended schools that were damaged by Sandy. Today, 33,000 students attend 50 schools that are still job sites.
Of the damaged buildings, at least two dozen fell behind schedule on repairs, including Brooklyn Public School 188 in Coney Island. The $13 million project there to repair interior spaces, the school heating plant and electrical systems — among other things — was meant to be done by June.
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It’s now scheduled to be finished by December. Education Department officials said extra ventilation work, asbestos removal and a plan to relocate two boilers delayed the process.
Systemwide, Education department officials cited expanding construction projects and difficulty coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency as prime causes for delays.
It’s been a learning experience, and not all bad, either. Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose said the challenges the schools encountered have allowed the city to put better plans in place.
“We took everything that we created during the process of Sandy and created the playbook for the next weather emergency event,” she explained.
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Rose helped set the recovery process in action in the confusing days after the Oct. 29, 2012, storm, when thousands upon thousands of students’ schools were rendered uninhabitable by damage.
A week later, about a quarter of those students were still unable to return to their home school buildings, as the city raced to bring campuses back online.
But by January 2013, all of the city students had returned to their schools, even though many of the buildings were still under construction.
“Most of the families were incredibly grateful,” said Rose. “Getting families back into their schools helped on the road to recovery.”
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