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4 Schools Still Without Fire Alarms After Hurricane Sandy Damage

By Katie Honan | September 15, 2014 7:44am
 Fire watchers stand guard at Beach Channel High School this week.
Fire watchers stand guard at Beach Channel High School this week.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

ROCKAWAY BEACH — Four public schools are still without a working fire alarm nearly two years after Hurricane Sandy damaged their buildings — and city officials blame the federal government's red tape for the delays.

The fixes, along with the replacement of “temporary” boilers at more than 30 schools, are part of the more than $700 million in repairs needed for schools across the five boroughs that were damaged during the October 2012 storm.

In place of fire alarms — which had wiring damaged by floodwaters  — the city has paid a security company to staff schools with fire watchers on every floor.

It was not clear how many fire watchers, mandated by the FDNY in lieu of alarms, there were or how much they were paid.

The guards are provided through Brooklyn-based Peak Security Plus, Inc., which was awarded a nearly $800,000 contract September 2013 to provide fire-watch services in schools, according to city records.

When reached by phone, an employee of Peak Security confirmed that their staffers have been in public schools as fire guards since "late last year." It was unclear who provided security before that.


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Of the seven schools that had their fire alarms knocked out by the storm, three have been replaced, a spokeswoman for the DOE said.

Those schools include P.S. 207 in Howard Beach, where parents last year complained about the lack of alarms with one calling it a "disgrace," P.S. 256 in Belle Harbor and P.S. 105 in Far Rockaway.

Four other schools are awaiting a fix, including Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park, where repairs are expected to be made by October. The timeline for the others is unknown, according to the DOE spokeswoman.

Officials could not immediately confirm the names of the three others, but according to a report from last year, they were P.S. 90 in Coney Island, P.S. 195 in Manhattan Beach and William E. Grady High School in Coney Island.

A worker at Grady said the alarm had been fixed. The other schools did not return calls for comment.

Meanwhile, guards are in place year-round, including during summer school, to meet the city's requirement.

One teacher who works at Beach Channel High School, but asked not to be named, said she "doesn't understand what's taking so long."

During fire drills, the watchers go from room to room simulating an emergency, where they blow a whistle alerting students, faculty and staff, she said.

"All the money they spent on fire watchers couldn't have been used from the jump to fix the alarms?" she wondered.

Eight of the 33 schools — mostly in Brooklyn and Queens — that DNAinfo first reported need new boilers are in line to get replacements soon, the DOE said. Bids for those projects were awarded in June.

Projects to replace boilers at 20 other schools are expected to go to bid by the end of this year, a DOE spokeswoman said. The remaining five schools will have their boilers repaired, she added, and the bids for those projects should go out later this year.

The boiler and fire alarm repairs at all schools are federally funded, which requires approval through FEMA — adding to the wait, city officials said. 

And the city is working to make the new systems that are installed more resilient in the face of future storms.

“Ensuring the safety of every school building is top priority, and we are working to replace the temporary boilers as expediently as possible," DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye said.

"Our efforts to support impacted schools goes beyond replacing and restoring damaged areas and we have seen real progress — we are working to put mitigation measures in place to protect against future extreme weather to ensure our students can thrive in safe and supportive learning environments.”

It's unclear how much it will cost to repair individual boilers at city schools, or how much the city is spending on temporary boilers.

A spokesman for FEMA confirmed the projects in the works for the city and said the regulations are part of the federal agency's process of awarding grants. 

“We’re working very closely with the School Construction Authority to make sure that fire alarms and boilers damaged after Sandy are fixed and operable to make sure that schools remain safe,” the spokesman, Michael Meenan, said.

He said the federal agency currently has plans, referred to as worksheets, for six of the seven schools that were without fire alarms since the storm. 

With these worksheets, repairs could move forward, he said, but he didn't know the exact progress of each.

The DOE is also looking to streamline the paperwork process as have other programs, notably the Hurricane Sandy recovery program Build It Back

The city announced on Sept. 5 that it had received a $108 million FEMA grant to repair the Coney Island Houses — but also created a fast-track application process for other NYCHA houses impacted by the storm, an official said. 

“By establishing a model, it cuts some of the federal bureaucracy,” the official said.