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Congers Elementary School Declared Unsafe, Will Not Open

Large cracks in the school's wall could lead to collapse, according to engineers.

Left: Congers Elementary. Right: cracks in the wall deemed 'unsafe.' Credit: Robin Traum/Patch
Left: Congers Elementary. Right: cracks in the wall deemed 'unsafe.' Credit: Robin Traum/Patch

Congers Elementary School has been shuttered due to unsafe conditions, and local youngsters will have to attend class elsewhere next month when the academic year kicks off, according to Clarkstown School District Superintendent Dr. J. Thomas Morton.

Morton said engineers examining Congers Elementary School determined Wednesday night that the building is too dangerous to open for the start of school. The engineers found large cracks in the back wall of the school, Morton explained, and raised concerns that a strong wind at a certain angle could cause the wall to buckle and school to collapse. 

The cinderblock wall is part of the building that houses the gym, and is next to the outdoor playground. Police tape is currently cordoning off the structure.

On Thursday afternoon, Morton noted the district is working on other locations for Congers students to attend classes when school begins on Sept. 9.

“We’re looking for alternatives right now,” he said. “We’ve been looking at potential facilities all through the county and coming up short. We’re looking at housing them in our district and splitting them up in other schools.” 

Morton said cracks were found in the back wall on July 1 had been repaired, but reappeared in mid-August. The district is notifying teachers that the school has been closed. 

Morton added that the district’s primary concern is the safety of students and staff, and noted no one is permitted in the building. He is working on a letter notifying parents that he hopes will be distributed later today or early Friday, Morton told Patch. 

Z August 29, 2013 at 09:39 PM
I think that maybe they don't want to pay the money to rent the parochial schools and will squeeze in the pupils in the Clarkstown schools.
ADK August 29, 2013 at 09:40 PM
Z I hadn't thought of that...you may be right...
Phil Leiter August 29, 2013 at 09:48 PM
There's a meeting tomorrow at the South Auditorium at 3:00 that I plan to attend. I somewhat agree with you, Alan. I'm not convinced that the drop in enrollment is more than short-term, but if it is then any school closing should have a strategic, long-term advantage. I don't believe leaving one elementary school on this side of the causeway has that advantage, but the alleged danger of Congers Elementary may seem too great an opportunity to dismiss any repairs as a bad investment and shut it down.
ADK August 29, 2013 at 09:59 PM
I agree Phil, and I'm sure that tensions will be high tomorrow...for me, I would like to hear the answer to these questions: --is there currently a plan in place to contract Elementary Schools, and is this part of that plan? --are you committed to repairing Congers elementary and bringing it back on line? How will that be funded? --please answer specifically what locations were examined and why they were deemed unacceptable. Will they still be explored? --has the state DOE (and its engineeers) been consulted and have they signed off on closing the school as the right course of action?
Roadrunner August 29, 2013 at 10:09 PM
It doesn't have to be a windy day to bring the wall down. Laws of physics will apply if the structure is compromised. Bear in mind we have had 2 weather phenomenon the last 2 years in October. Better safe then sorry. If they didn't close the school and the wall collapsed then the same people upset about relocation now would be outraged that this wasn't closed when engineers deemed it unsafe.
Phil Leiter August 29, 2013 at 10:18 PM
You're absolutely right, RR, which is why it's odd that a wall that has been monitored and repaired for as long as I've lived here is suddenly found dangerous during one of the calmest meteorologic periods in the past three years. Along with Alan's questions, I'd like to know the details of the structure's deficiencies and why it wasn't noted until the school year was about to start.
Chris Savoury August 30, 2013 at 07:48 AM
I cannot even comprehend why modular classrooms are not being brought in? The average modular holds 35-50 students and could be installed with power, heat and ac in less than 3 weeks. They are dirt cheap to rent, and the school has plenty of room on the property. No one has to go anywhere else and it should only take a month max to demolish and rebuild the wall.
Charles W. Samoylo August 30, 2013 at 07:57 AM
It's shame that Congers has to close..But they made the right decision Safety comes first.Is it possible to have the children use St Augustine's School for their classes. Would that cause a flap between Church and State.
Jonathan Swift August 30, 2013 at 08:13 AM
I would think if the admin is looking to close the school down then why move all the teachers with the kids as per the letter sent out. It seems like the district is being safe and I commend them for their quick response. Also the email stated that they are holding 2 meetings for the Congers parents. Glad to see the admin is trying to keep the community updated with information.
Robert Ward Kurkela August 30, 2013 at 08:55 AM
The bond that failed included repairs to Congers. The bond was sabotaged. Thank the Former Board of Education. Stay tuned, more to follow on that...
Robert Ward Kurkela August 30, 2013 at 10:45 AM
ADK, did you support the bond that included repairs to Congers? Did Lorette Adams & Lawrence Garvey support the Board? Can you please inform us?
PC2 August 30, 2013 at 10:51 AM
@ADK. You make a very good point about safety, but I would like to just correct some factual errors. The elementary school where the school where the wall collapsed during a tornado was East Coldenham, and it is in the Valley Central School District a little north of Monroe-Woodbury. Nine small children were killed and nineteen others injured, and a tenth child was killed in car accident the following day caused by rubbernecking gawkers. I have included a link to the original article (it only mentions the initial seven children who died at the scene) so that people can fully comprehend the tragedy to which you refer. Regardless of any politics that may or may not be involved in the closing of Congers, people should not be dismissive of precautions taken for the children's safety. http://t.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/99999999/NEWS/70920020&template=tabletart
GWashington August 30, 2013 at 01:40 PM
School tax bill received in the mail today. The 5 digit amount to be paid is obscene. Take up a private collection to repair the school or shut it. Clarkstown is beyond out of control.
ADK August 30, 2013 at 03:41 PM
PC2 thanks for correcting me...I forgot that the loss of life was so high...
ADK August 30, 2013 at 03:50 PM
No Bob, I was against the bond, as we're roughly 75% of the community...I thought it was ill conceived, unaffordable and if passed, would have plunged the district toward insolvency. As a private citizen, I spent a lot of my own money and countless hours getting that message out to the public. To blame this on the failed bond is illogical. That was 6 years ago. There has been ample time to devise and execute a plan to rehab and renovate those structures that require attention, yet nothing has been accomplished. Ae you suggesting that because we didn't approve $187 million dollars, there was no other contingency available...ever??
people its all about what the clowns on maple ave want...a gazillion dollar main street with metal benchs thats supposed to attract legions people as their destination...look at all the trees they decimated...very horrific what nature let grow the food eating mapleites cut down..we have a 75,000 part timer another waste of taxpayer dollars..too bad they didnt have a early summer part timer looking for abnormalties on the school grounds? oops too much work....we have a clerka da works who gromuch rewarded with a 6% plus raise....170,000 to watch over the main street show.... a contrast nyack just voted on a new school employee budget..they are getting 1% and no raises in 2014 -15..then again nyack is a great town...not like clowntown new city..all the congers people should thank the leaders for the boardwalk expenditures ...soo important...cough cough
Sasha Bunchuk August 30, 2013 at 10:16 PM
The Hillcrest School is IN New City, CLARKSTOWN!!! It's a beautiful school and in Oct. the state will make a decision to put it up for sale. The corrupt East Ram. Sch Bd. tried mightily to "Give" it to New Square. They are slowly destroying it. Now it is there for the taking. If Clarkstown and the School Board let this go by....shame on you all.
bj August 30, 2013 at 11:05 PM
At the meeting today Mr. LaNave said he spoke to Joel Klein, Superintendent of East Ramapo and was told Hillcrest was unavailable. Mr. LaNave said he believed it was being used by a Yeshiva
Sasha Bunchuk August 31, 2013 at 07:45 AM
Mr. LaNave... why is the Hillcrest School unavailable? Its original sale was declared illegal by the State Educ. Dept. and has declared that it must be offerred for sale again. The only way it is unavailable is if ERSD opens the school again for the district.
Robert Ward Kurkela August 31, 2013 at 10:59 AM
ADK thanks for your reply. I'm too involved in East Ramapo nonsense to elaborate what I know about how the bond failed. Suffice it to say Board members acted in public as if they supported it but did all they could out of public view to make sure it failed. I do believe the bond story is going to be told but not by me. Enjoy the long weekend everyone!
Beytril Saila August 31, 2013 at 02:47 PM
I have been reading with great interest all of the comments posted in the ongoing coverage; the passion of those who want to keep their community school and the passion of those who see the financial plight of the people of Clarkstown and the county. I grew up in Clarkstown and have been paying school taxes for over 30 years. To those of you who so bluntly state that I should just leave my home if I can no longer afford the taxes, I would respond that this is a statement showing age discrimination towards the those of us left in the county who have paid for over two generations of childrens' education. In the last budget cycle, Clarkstown School Direct was the only district in the county that did not tighten its economic stranglehold on the taxpayers. Indeed, within the past two weeks they have hired 2 additional staff members at an annual salary of over a quarter million dollars, not including pensions and benefits. I do not believe that the closing of the school was a conspiracy to eliminate an elementary school, but I do believe it has provided an opportunity to take a close look at the the business of education in Clarkstown. I end with this radical thought - why not eliminate school taxes entirely for those who have consistently paid the tax for their children's education and for that of the next generation (25-26 years?. We have paid it forward, and should not have to leave our homes because our incomes can no longer support this ever increasing burden.
Robert Guttman September 01, 2013 at 08:38 AM
I attended the South Orangetown Middle School the year it first opened. At that time it, too, had large cracks in it's concrete walls. Nevertheless the school opened on schedule and, so far as I can remember, no work was done during the course of that year to repair those cracks, which remained clearly visible for the remainder of that school year I can't say what was done after that because I have never set foot inside that building since.
Ivebeenhere September 01, 2013 at 09:08 AM
FOR ALL of you who think your some kind of engineer and questioning the closing of the school; shut up. God forbid the school remained open and the wall actually did collaps. YOU would then open the same mouth on your face to rant about how you couldnt believe this "slipped through the cracks of a inspection" and probably killing a few kids as well... CONSPIRACY? How about we eliminate all thoughts of that by making the repairs within a year. NOT temporarily fixing the cracks by slapping some mortar on these huge cracks to make them look repaired. Temporarily split the kids up to where room is available and reopen the school when complete. End of story.
HardWorkingGuy September 01, 2013 at 01:11 PM
Some interesting factoids. Nys says that the avg gsqf per student is roughly 135 sqf per student. Acording to ccsd website they own roughly 1.5 million sqf. They have about 9100 students and 1400 staff. That puts our sqf at 142.8 sqf per student including staff and support. If you remove the admin and maintenance facilities, and then remove the sqf of congers elementary. I have a feeling they are already tight on space. Unless there are admin/maintenance facilities that could be re purposed for classroom use. Then you need to weigh the cost of each scenario and make the best operational/financial decision. This will all take time and should not be done in haste. The worst thing that could happen now compounding a problem by making a rush decision. The school board needs to keep the community VERY well informed about information coming in and disclose the thought process so we all understand the "why" of the decisions that are being made.
Congers Resident September 01, 2013 at 07:05 PM
As a life long resident of Congers I understand both sides of what is going on. On one hand the school district has the finical obligation to the tax payers to do the right thing and on the other hand the school is a landmark of the hamlet. What everyone needs to stop and think about is what the right thing is for every tax payer not just the tax payer of Congers. I don’t want to see the school closed either but the right thing needs to be done. I feel both sides are fueled by emotion and not rational thinking. For the parents saying they don’t what their children going to two separate schools I ask what will you do when one child is in the middle school and the other is still in elementary school? I don’t think that is the valid argument here. Maybe the best thing for the school district is to replace the school? The building is over 80 years old and is not up to today’s standards. Maybe the cost effective thing would be to demolish the school and rebuild. The school district needs to do the homework and come back to the tax payers with a plan. For everyone using the argument that the town is building a board walk around Congers Lake or paying highway guys 75k for a no show job is irrelevant. Those two are also valid arguments abut have no place in this discussion. The Town of Clarkstown has no financial obligation to fix the school. That is apples and oranges. The school board who collects the taxes has the obligation. Lets wait and see what the board has to say this week.
Jimmy R September 01, 2013 at 07:08 PM
Here's more information about the upcoming meeting for Congers elementary - - - https://www.facebook.com/notes/clarkstown-what-they-dont-want-you-to-know/congers-elementary-school-closure-important-meeting/158104447723041
Shojib Ashrafi Na Ashrafi September 01, 2013 at 10:31 PM
However, I must agree with Peter, the most crucial part of a backup is the restoration. No matter how nice and easy or fun the backup process of any tool is, if the restoration part of it is difficult and/or buggy, it’s a big bust.
Robert Ward Kurkela September 02, 2013 at 10:10 PM
Here is the new blog by Phil Leiter: http://pleiter.blogspot.com/2013/09/as-congers-goes-so-goes-ccsd.html
Sandy Knapp September 03, 2013 at 03:14 PM
I was born and raised in Congers and lived there from 1947-1995. When I was in kindergarten, they determined that the old wooden elementary school was not safe for the kindergarten class and we had to take a bus to Street School in New City. However, when we went into the 1st grade we were back in the wooden school. Was in that school building until the middle of 5th grade when the construction of the new elementary school was built around the former high school. From what I've read on the Congers Group Facebook pages and in the Rockland Journal News, the parents are more upset about the timing of the decision.....a week before school was to open. Suppose a family had a child in different grades. They could potentially go to 3 different schools. We are not talking teenagers, we are talking about K-5. I know the parents are concerned for the safety of their children and want what is best for them. However, a decision to not open the school a week before it starts does not leave the parents a lot of time to make arrangements for their children (before and after school's start time and at the end of day). Do all 3 schools (Lakewood, New City, and Laurel Plains) start and end at the same times of the day? That's where I think the real concern lies.
Roadrunner September 03, 2013 at 04:04 PM
I think all elementary schools in Clarkstown dismiss at the same time regardless of the elementary school. The kids going to different schools because of their grade may have a different bus pick up and drop off time which may effect some working parents.

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