Check back this week for a video of the school tour
A river ran through it — and the high school has been inoperable ever since.
On the evening of Oct. 29, Hurricane Sandy sent a furious tidal surge of water from Mill River, just yards behind East Rockaway High School, into the building, causing flood, wind, electrical and infrastructure damage the likes of which the 77-year-old building had never seen. As a result, junior and senior high students were unable to attend school for nine days until temporary facility could be found for them and the staff, while officials decided what to do about the devastated high school.
“The saddest part,” said Superintendent Roseanne Melucci, “is that as a school, you expect to be the center for the community, so when [they’re] suffering, they have a place to go for a sense of normalcy. People can’t do that right now.”
Melucci and other school administrators are working out of BOCES offices in Westbury, while the junior and senior high students are attending the Milburn and Shubert schools in Baldwin, which had been closed since last year.
Melucci recently took the Herald on a tour of the high school, which was almost unrecognizable but for the colorful murals and drawings in the school colors of orange and black that adorned the hallways. Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives — the third group assigned to the high school since the storm — were touring the facility at the same time.
“One FEMA team pointed out things we must do in order to get reimbursement,” Melucci said, “so we listened.” One requirement was to get all of the electrical wires out of the crawl spaces and into space between the first and second floor — a monumental task. “One of the biggest things happening here is the rewiring,” she said. “People ask why we’re not open yet like some other schools … it’s not just cosmetic, it’s the entire infrastructure of the building.”
FEMA will reimburse 75 percent of the district’s losses; the other 25 percent is the district’s responsibility. “I asked [Congresswoman Carolyn] McCarthy when she was here if we could get an increase to 90 percent, like they gave during Katrina,” Melucci said, “and she said it’s not gonna happen.” The deadline for disaster assistance requests is Jan. 30.
Signs of recovery