Cresskill school students flooded by Ida want to return

CRESSKILL – The weeks following the Great Storm were not easy for parents and students at Cresskill High School.

The remains of Hurricane Ida ravaged the Lincoln Drive building that is home to 1,000 middle and high school studentslast month, causing $ 15 million in damage, or half of the school district’s annual operating budget.

These students now face the prospect of a second year of distance learning, following last year’s struggles with the pandemic.

The district has encountered roadblocks since the flooding, including delays in approving alternatives classroom spaces and fight for the state’s “emergency” status bypass a competitive bidding process.

Bergen County Commissioner Tracy Silna Zur, left, and New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy speak with school officials before visiting the damage from the remains of Hurricane Ida which displaced over 1,000 students from Cresskill High School.  A group of parents stood outside the school with signs hoping to speak to Murphy after his tour on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.

Good news finally arrived on Thursday, when the district learned it coulduse an emergency purchase status to replace the boilers instead of going out to bid,a slower process.

Burke said they found out Thursday night from their listeners and the New Jersey Department of Education of the emergency status, which he said will speed up the schedule by at least five weeks. The district had to appeal a previous rejection to gain status.

The goal now is to bring students back to their own classes by the end of 2021.

Upset parents

It is not soon enough for parents and students, who are calling on the government to end delays and bureaucracy.

David Spelbrink said that another disjointed year of learning is not what is best for his seventh grader and other students.

First Lady Tammy Murphy visited the damage two weeks ago and was greeted by more than 50 parents asking for help.

“Right now we don’t need photo ops, we need action,” Spelbrink said. “The governor must reduce the bureaucracy. We must get Sainte-Thérèse cleared, we have to make Crestron an option, ”he said, referring to a Catholic school and office building being offered as alternative learning sites.

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Nancy Chin has three boys in ninth, eleventh and twelfth grades and fears they may not be able to catch up after missing two years of in-person learning.

“There is no social aspect, no gathering of children or sharing of ideas or laughter,” Chin said. There is no face to face with the advisers. It is a critical time for seniors. It’s just awful.

Chin said the parents wrote to Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr.’s office daily to help students get back to learning in person and with the cost of repairs.

New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy, Bergen County Commissioner Tracy Silna Zur, Bergen County Clerk John Hogan and others visit the damage caused by the remains of Hurricane Ida which displaced more than 1,000 students of Cresskill High School.  A group of parents stood outside the school with signs hoping to speak to Murphy after his tour on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.

‘It’s not enough’

For Sarah Barrs, having her 6th grade home instead of starting middle school left them both helpless.

“I think it’s clear that the whole community, our teachers, our staff, the administration and the city are doing all they can, but our hands are tied behind our backs with bureaucracy,” Barrs said. “We’re not getting the attention we deserve.

Her daughter has written a letter to Governor Phil Murphy’s office to show how it affects her.

“This year was going to be a new beginning, we were going to lunch and whole days. This would be my first year with lockers and change classes, ”wrote Hannah Barrs.

New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy, Bergen County Commissioner Tracy Silna Zur, Bergen County Clerk John Hogan and others visit the damage caused by the remains of Hurricane Ida which displaced more than 1,000 students of Cresskill High School.  A group of parents stood outside the school with signs hoping to speak to Murphy after his tour on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.

Hannah hoped this year would be an opportunity to make up for lost time with friends after last year’s shutdown, meet new ones, and see her teachers in person.

“Cresskill is a small town. The community unites to save our school but it is not enough. We don’t have the funds and the resources to solve this problem ourselves, ”Hannah Barrs wrote to the governor. “I understand you are very busy, but we need help now. “

Murphy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

What was damaged

The combined middle and high school building was constructed in a flood-prone area 60 years ago, but the September 1 storm was the first case of major flooding, Burke said.

The school took several meters of water, which rose above the auditorium stage, destroying it along with the gymnasium, media center, desks and chairs.

All four boilers, appliances and water pumps need to be repaired or replaced. The four boilers, which will cost between $ 5 and $ 6 million to repair, have the highest price tag.

Parents hold signs as they wait for New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy to tour the damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida that displaced more than 1,000 students from Cresskill High School.  About 75 people were hoping to speak to Murphy after his tour on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.

“Since the water was draining deep into the combustion chamber, there is a serious risk of an electric arc if they were ignited and tested,” said Burke. “The result of the electric arc is a potential explosion in the building.”

The district is to bid for lenders while flood insurance and FEMA claims are being processed.

All 52 univents should be extensively cleaned or replaced. The water damage left toxins and corrosion behind.

The building’s water pumps were completely submerged for over 30 hours. Burke said they had been told they could be rebuilt rather than replaced, which would speed recovery, but in their current state they are “completely unusable.”

“Over the past week we’ve made solid progress and we’re starting to be optimistic about bringing students back into the building this year,” Burke said.

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A FEMA representative has been appointed and is currently working on the reimbursement process. Burke said under FEMA, the district can qualify for 85% of the $ 15 million in damages, but he is pushing for 100%.

“Tammy Murphy, our owners, assembly reps and Pascrell are all working on this to get us full funding from FEMA,” Burke said.

What will come

The bidding process for funding will be completed by the end of this week. Once this is approved, they can hire a company to replace the boilers.

Three companies have been invited to submit their prices by Monday. “The most important part is getting the boilers ordered and built,” Burke said.

A company hired to clean the radiator vents and will also begin work this week.

In the meantime, the district has secured 10 classrooms and a gymnasium at the Sainte-Thérèse de Lisieux church school in Cresskill for 10 months. The Department of Education will not allow students to enter the building until codes and regulations are followed.

Parents hold signs as they wait for New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy to tour the damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida that displaced more than 1,000 students from Cresskill High School.  About 75 people were hoping to speak to Murphy after his tour on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.

Over the next three weeks there will be internet installation, fire and lead code approvals and acquired furniture.

“I plan to have students in this building daily for the next three weeks,” Burke said.

The plan is to have a rotating half-day schedule for middle school students and possibly 9th grade students in Sainte-Thérèse.

Dams

A second building has been secured, the Crestron on Broadway, in hopes of temporarily housing high school students, but the Education Department said this was not a viable option.

“Unfortunately, since this is not a classified structure for education, significant upgrades should be made,” said Burke.

Modular classrooms are now being considered at the high school, with the aim of making them available this month.

Parents hold signs as they wait for New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy to tour the damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida that displaced more than 1,000 students from Cresskill High School.  About 75 people were hoping to speak to Murphy after his tour on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.

“While the cost of these units is quite high, it allows us to get students back faster for live instruction rather than waiting,” said Burke.

Modular classrooms will allow daily instruction without schedules or rotating cohorts.

Parents don’t wait

Some parents took matters into their own hands and created learning modules.

Stephanie David said her eighth grade daughter was struggling, missing the social aspects of school.

She contacted the parents of her five best friends and they agreed to do some group learning. They bought back to school clothes and tried to simulate a normal environment. They run the houses.

“The girls did really well. We’ll have to wait and see how it works academically, but the pure social aspect has been really great for them, ”said David.

But like so many parents in the neighborhood, David is frustrated.

“I thought the goal was to get the kids into the schools and past the teachers, but there are a lot of roadblocks and red tape,” she said.

Kristie Cattafi is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: cattafi@northjersey.com

Twitter: @KristieCattafi



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