Despite Leaky Roofs and Complaints about Mold, NYSED Director of Facilities Said East Ramapo District Schools are Safe

BY JANIE ROSMAN

Various areas inside Ramapo High School taken February 2015 by Samantha Curry
Various areas inside Ramapo High School taken February 2015 by Samantha Curry

Retired school district employee Mae Davis admonished the board and superintendent for what she said are the deplorable conditions of the facilities in East Ramapo School District. “They cut back on maintenance and custodians, used substitute cleaners and had only a skeleton crew,” she said in a recent interview with the Rockland County Times.

During walks around the buildings, Davis saw locker rooms in the gym that looked like war zones.

“Pomona (Middle School) was atrocious,” she said. “Most of the buildings look like that. You come to work and the kids come to work, and you walk into a building that that. They cut back on staff qualified to fix things. You’re going to put this on a bond? How can you put the safety of the kids and teachers on a bond?”

As long as they blame public education on the teachers, no one is going to learn, Davis said. “Teachers are wearing too many hats because they (district) got rid of counselors and programs, and the kids suffer.”

2She wants Governor Cuomo to come to the school district and see for himself how both the learning environments and the quality of education have deteriorated.

NYSED Director of Facilities Carl T. Thurnau, PE, maintained its schools are safe, and the district can only consider limited emergency repairs without voter authorization.

“Safe” is not the same as a learning environment a parent would want his or her children in, and it’s not an environment that suggests students are valued by the district, a former New York City Board of Education maintenance department employee explained.

“If we’re talking about safety (being inside it), then no, they’re not safe,” one Spring Valley High School student told this reporter. “Whatever is said on paper is what they believe. The school has limited resources, and they’re expecting maintenance to fix things.”

When it rains or snows, the student said, dirty water from the roof drips into the dance room, and a garbage can is placed under the leaking spot. “If there are a few drops of water on the floor before the garbage can is put there, a student can trip.”

3SVHS is one of five schools Thurnau recently and personally inspected with Director of Facilities Al Perotti — they also visited Ramapo High School, Chestnut Ridge Middle School, Kakiat Elementary School and Elmwood Elementary School. Superintendent Joel Klein was there for portions of the facilities inspection and didn’t see mold (frequently present in older buildings) in his inspection, state education department spokesman Jonathan Burman said.

The Rockland County Times asked Thurnau about water leaking through East Ramapo school district buildings, mold collected on the SVHS roof and NYSED’s required building condition survey every five years.

“While there are aging roofs that are leaking in several locations, there is no evidence that the roofs are creating an unsafe condition for occupants,” Burman replied via email.

4Another SVHS student told this reporter that last year her school had gray garbage cans (those you find in the lunch room) in the hallway, while someone else observed mold on the ceiling.

“He (Thurnau) has informed the district that if mold is ever discovered, they should immediately clean it with soap and water,’ Burman said. The district “did extensive investigations in order to prepare for the recently defeated bond issue. There is no need to perform another inspection now.”

This reporter sent NYSED pictures of a Ramapo High School hallway with hanging ceiling, and locations where plastic bins collected dripping water (taken last winter). He said the district attempted to correct all leaks that manifested in damaged/stained ceiling tiles and the need for buckets, and all ceiling tiles were corrected to date (start of school).

While most of the missing tiles are back, and the trash cans are gone, discolored tiles remain. A garbage can (possibly for a leak) was observed in the library last Thursday.

Spring Valley High School roof - zoom onto one specific roof of building next to the tennis court, taken by Lee Ross
Spring Valley High School roof – zoom onto one specific roof of building next to the tennis court, taken by Lee Ross

“Please keep in mind that many roofs are past their useful life and may therefore continue to leak, damaging additional ceiling tiles and necessitating the use of buckets (as depicted in the photos you sent),” Burman said. “While there are issues that need to be addressed over time, the inspection revealed that the school facilities are safe for occupancy.”

Thurnau reviewed the district’s current priorities, which include building “envelopes” (roofs, windows, etc) and heating systems; based on his recent inspections, he agrees with those priorities. The department will continue to work with the district to ensure their facilities are safe for all building occupants.

Aware “there are issues that need to be addressed over time, the inspection revealed that the school facilities are safe for occupancy,” Burman said. Pressing infrastructure needs are roofing, heating, and windows, and the Board is considering how to proceed based on the failure of the referendum.”

“We’ll be finding mechanisms and looking at where the staff and the state can have funds to do building repairs,” state monitor Dennis Walcott said.