December 11th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

7 years to build school, 15 minutes for storm to wreck it

This is the second in a two-part series about recovery from Superstorm Sandy. Today's story follows one school, Scholars' Academy, as it struggles to reopen. Yesterday's story told the story of one student, Scholars' eighth-grader Ryan Panetta, as his family rebuilds after the storm.

By Rose Arce, CNN

New York (CNN) - Brian O'Connell remembers the plays in the big auditorium at Scholars' Academy, the workout room outfitted by parents, the rows of computers, the winning teams, the honor society.

“We had pretty much 100% of the kids going to college last year,” said O’Connell, the tall, fresh-faced principal of the school. “We had teams playing competitively around the city, an orchestra, plays on a top-notch stage.”

The night Superstorm Sandy pelted New York, it took 15 minutes to lose it all.

“I look at the videos and I can’t believe how quickly the water rose,” O’Connell said early this month as he watched surveillance footage from the storm.

The water flowed from the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay, tainted by overflow from a nearby sewage treatment plant. The video shows water rising as if released from a spigot, sweeping through the front of the school, climbing up the front stairs and pouring into the basement boiler.

“The next time I got in there, my grand piano was floating,” O’Connell said.

Scholars’ Academy was one of 1,750 schools badly damaged by the storm, one of many still trying to clean up and rebuild weeks later. The nation’s largest school system was so wounded by the storm that it shut down for days. Even when schools reopened, 73,000 kids were displaced from their regular buildings. The district had lost 300 buses to water. Repairs moved quickly, but by early December, 5,400 children were still being bused to temporary schools.

Scholars’ Academy is one of 56 buildings that are so severely damaged they won’t reopen until next year. More than half the school’s students saw damage to their homes. All of them are now riding long hours to study in borrowed school spaces.


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Filed under: Hurricane Sandy