More than 100 Congers Elementary School parents filed into
the gym at Clarkstown South High School on Friday to learn more about why the
neighborhood school was shuttered suddenly on Thursday and how the Clarkstown
district was handling the relocation of almost 300 students.
During the two and a half hour meeting, numerous parents expressed skepticism over the district’s commitment to repair the unsafe conditions at the school and keep it open. Superintendent Dr. J. Thomas Morton told them that all information about the building, which was closed on Thursday because of an unsafe wall, would be shared publicly.
“We don’t know what the extent of the problem is with the building,” he said. “We do know it is structurally unsound.”
On July 1st cracks found in the back wall of the gym/auditorium were repaired. Engineers were called in August 1 when the same cracks reappeared and took samples of the cinderblock wall built in 1927. They determined the cinderblocks were not reinforced with rebar or cement, which rendered the wall unstable and susceptible to collapse in a strong wind hitting it at the wrong angle.
The engineering report will be published on the district’s website next week. Dr. Morton said once all the information is received, the decision about what to do will be made by the school board.
A fence will replace the yellow caution tape blocking off the back area of the building and playground. A second meeting for parents will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Clarkstown South.
Congers Principal Martha Ryan said, “It’s been an incredibly emotional two days.”
She said her priorities when making plans for the transfer of students to other buildings was to keep them safe and keep them together while providing the same quality of instruction. Ryan said she contacted her entire staff and reached out to the PTA to discuss the situation. She will be based at Lakewood Elementary School and will travel between the three schools.
The principals of the three schools that Congers students will be bused to beginning September 9th, Dr. Joan Taylor of Lakewood, Debra Forman of New City and Carol Pilla of Laurel Plains, also spoke about how their staffs were working to make the transition as smooth as possible. A letter is going out to families, inviting them to bring their children to tour their new schools on Wednesday. Dr. Morton said new bus passes would be hand delivered to all the students’ homes next week.
While arrangements are being finalized for the students, Assistant Superintendent John LaNave said he would be touring the former St. Augustine’s School in New City on Saturday morning to see if it could accommodate all the Congers students. If that is an option, then the New York Archdiocese must approve it and a lease worked out with Dr. Morton and the school board’s agreement. LaNave said he is contacting St. Ann’s in Nyack, which was rented to Rockland BOCES, and already looked at empty schools in other districts, which did not meet their requirements.
David Gottlieb asked if the district’s administrative building which was formerly a school could be utilized. He was told the classrooms had been transformed into offices.
Several parents asked if there was a definite timeline for how long their children would attend classes in the other schools. LaNave said the engineers recommended the wall be replaced. The district is working closely with the state education department and must go through the process of determining the scope of work before getting bids.
“We’re going through the process to analyze the costs to repair this building,” said LaNave.
They also sought assurances from the school board members present, Mike Aglialoro, Chris Conti, Kevin Grogan and Wendy Adolff, that the school would be repaired and reopened.
Aglialoro, who is the school board president, said, “I mean if the plan comes back and it’s a reasonable amount to fix Congers it’s absolutely going to be done. But if the plan comes back and it’s $20 million you know what that’s a tougher decision. So we’re going to have to wait to see what the engineer says and what the cost is.”
Phil Leiter said repairs to the school were part of a district wide bond that was voted down in 2009. Since the problem of cracks had been ongoing he asked why it had not been addressed.
“This district since I’ve been here has a tendency not to do long-term planning,” he said.
Dozens of parents asked questions and brought up concerns about after school programs, different bus times for children in one family who would wind up attending several schools and loss of the school’s sense of community.
“I really do believe everyone wants to stay together,” said parent Karen Higgins.
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