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East Rockaway High School gets FEMA Sandy grant

$4.5 million for mitigation to storm-ravaged building

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Nearly four years ago, East Rockaway High School was hit hard during Hurricane Sandy when the Mill River, which runs directly behind the building, overflowed, causing extensive damage to the interior and exterior of the building.

On June 30, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had awarded nearly $4.5 million to the East Rockaway School District for Sandy-related repairs and mitigation work at the high school.

“There is no better federal investment than one that helps educate our students in a safe and learning-friendly environment,” Schumer said. “East Rockaway High School was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, and these funds will help provide critical mitigation measures to make the school stronger and prevent damage in the event of a future storm.”

“The East Rockaway School District sustained $12 million in damages from Superstorm Sandy, and our students were displaced for six months while we worked to repair the building,” said district Superintendent Lisa Ruiz. “While we continue to seek additional federal and state funds for further mitigation work and a retaining wall along the Mill River, this first grant award will help to better position the district to minimize future damage in the event of a reoccurrence, and will serve to protect our school campus and facilities from the devastating effects of another major storm.”

“We need to ensure that our children remain safe at school,” Gillibrand added, “and I will continue to fight for resources so we can rebuild even stronger as recovery efforts continue.”

A high school in distress

Sandy severely damaged the school’s electrical system, the main boilers, the gymnasium floor, a number of classrooms and the auditorium. The federal grant funding, totaling just under $4.48 million, will cover extensive work to help prevent damage from future storms, including the installation of submersible sump pumps, backflow preventers, 22 flood doors along the building’s exterior, 15 flood planks at specified openings, flood hatches at interior crawl space entry points, and a generator.

According to James P. Robinson, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, the funding will take the form of reimbursements of district spending. “As part of this process, [we] will now be evaluating various financial strategies that can be used to initially fund these mitigation projects,” he said.

Funding sources, Robinson explained, could include a bond or a revenue anticipation note. “The Board of Education will soon be discussing these options and finalizing a plan sometime in the early fall,” he said, “with the outcome and ultimate decision largely dependent on market conditions at the time, as well as the forecast timing of receiving this grant funding as a reimbursement.”

“After working hard to repair damage from Sandy and get students back into their classrooms, the East Rockaway High School community is now working hard to make the school more resilient,” Rice said. “I’m grateful that these federal funds have come through to support their efforts, and I’ll keep working with school district officials to ensure they get the resources they need to make the school stronger and more prepared to withstand future storms.”

“We really want to do everything we can to safeguard the district from any negative effects of a similar storm in the future,” Ruiz said.

An update of the current FEMA restoration projects and reimbursements, as well as further discussion of the grant, will be the focus at a Board of Education meeting scheduled for Aug. 30. Check the school district’s website, www.eastrockawayschools.org, for more details.

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