Lawrence School District receives nearly $13 million from FEMA

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Barely three months after Hurricane Sandy, Dr. Ann Pedersen, then the Lawrence School District’s assistant superintendent for Academic Affairs received a phone call on Jan. 16, 2013 that nearly made her forget that horrendous storm and the damage it inflicted on the Five Towns.

“The day we closed to move the high school was the day my first granddaughter was born, and I recall well speaking to the group on temporary relocation plans and getting that call,” said Pedersen, now the school district’s superintendent and a grandmother to six children.

A majority of the storm damage in the district occurred at Lawrence High School and that resulted in the Cedarhurst building being closed for nearly three months — after being reopened in November — and shifting roughly 900 students to two other district school buildings.

More than six years after Oct. 29, 2012 and what was called “the storm of the century” and Superstorm Sandy, the district was awarded $14.387 million, with 90 percent of it, exactly $12,948,307.94 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency and the other 10 percent from New York State’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

Water from a tributary of Jamaica Bay washed into the high school’s crawl space and brought with it roughly 140 yards of debris. Several miles of electrical wiring became corroded and boilers were rendered inoperable. The auditorium was severely damaged and when the building did reopen the air quality had to be monitored.

In response to why it took so long, Assistant Superintendent for Operations Jeremy Feder said: “It’s a very, very long process and very specific,” adding that the money can only be used for mitigation projects.

The money comes from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that provides grants to states and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation projects after a major disaster. The program aims to reduce the loss of life and property that typically results from natural disasters.

Pedersen said that the district has already done much to recover after Sandy and the FEMA money will help it take the “next giant step” in enhancing piping repairs. “We had so many staff members impacted both at home and school, myself included,” she said. “I think as I reflect back, I remember most how precious things like hot showers, battery life on our phones and gas in our cars was as we cared for one another.”

Board of Education President Murray Forman said that on behalf of the community he wanted to thank U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Kathleen Rice for their invaluable assistance in helping to attain the money.

“The receipt of FEMA funding will give the Lawrence School District a unique opportunity to completely renovate Lawrence High School,” Forman said. “We look forward to the resulting state of the art educational facility providing a safe and stimulating educational environment for many future generations of our children.”