BATTERY PARK CITY — The city is finally replacing hundreds of worn-down seats in Stuyvesant High School’s auditorium — more than a decade after Ground Zero dust filled the space and sparked concerns about contamination and students' health.
The upholstered seats became a flashpoint after students returned to Stuyvesant High less than a month after 9/11, with some parents and students claiming the school had not been sufficiently cleaned.
Now, the seats will finally be torn out and replaced, with funds from City Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer, who each contributed $150,000 to the project in the recently released city budget, their offices said.
The Department of Education will begin work to replace the seats in late summer 2015 and will finish by the end of that year, a spokesman for Chin said.
“I’m pleased they are finally doing this,” said Lila Nordstrom, 30, who was a senior at Stuyvesant on 9/11 and is still being treated for asthma related to the attacks. “But it’s a little late in the game.”
The Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment.
On the morning of 9/11 and in the weeks that followed, the highly selective Chambers Street high school became a command center for rescue and recovery efforts. The auditorium was a gathering spot for hundreds of workers and officials who walked back and forth from the rubble, dust and debris of the fallen towers.
City officials said they cleaned the school before students returned in early October, but students and teachers began reporting ailments including headaches and nosebleeds. Parents threatened to sue unless the city more thoroughly decontaminated the school and replaced the ventilation system.
“The auditorium was a big point of contention at the time” said Nordstrom, who now runs StuyHealth, a website that tracks health-related issues for 9/11-era Stuyvesant graduates. “There were so many spaces — the chairs, the curtains, the carpet — for dust to settle in.”
While the school did replace the carpeting and the curtains in the auditorium, the chairs were given an “industrial” cleaning but were never replaced, the school’s parent coordinator, Harvey Blumm, said.
“Attendees of the Stuyvesant High School auditorium, whether they are students, community members or city officials, have been sitting in the same aging seats ever since the school was built in 1992,” Chin said in an emailed statement. “These seats are tattered and worn down; they still carry the memories and even the dust left behind by the 9/11 attacks.”
Chin added, “This revitalization of the Stuyvesant auditorium will bring more than just new seating for school assemblies or neighborhood meetings — it will allow us to take yet another step forward in the recovery and resiliency of Lower Manhattan."
Some parents of current students at the school said they aren't concerned about the dust anymore — but they're happy to get a makeover of the school's main gathering space.
“We’ve been pushing for this for several years,” said David Venderbush, the co-president of the school’s PTA. “We’re thrilled, and thankful to the local officials who made this possible — this is a space that's used constantly by the thousands of students at the school, but also by the community, and it certainly needs an upgrade.”
Venderbush said the PTA hopes to raise additional funds to upgrade the sound and lighting systems in the auditorium.
Blumm, whose son was a sophomore at the time of the attacks, said the new chairs symbolize a new beginning.
"9/11 was very traumatic for us," Blumm said. "This, in a way, is a turning of the page, helping us close that chapter and move forward."