BY MARIA MIRAKAJ BROWNSELL
On Thursday, August 29, word spread fast that Congers Elementary would not be opening this year, just 11 days before the start of school. The school was declared unsafe and anyone in the building was told to vacate immediately. A letter from Superintendent J. Thomas Morton and Principal Martha Ryan was emailed to parents describing the unsafe conditions right away.
“At the end of June, a number of new cracks were discovered in the gym wall. Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon at Congers Elementary School as we have had to regularly repair cracks and involve structural engineers to ensure that the building remains safe to occupy. In early August, it was discovered these very same cracks reappeared suggesting additional shifting of the wall. After further analysis and testing it was determined that this wall is not structurally sound and must be replaced,” said Morton and Ryan’s letter. It was found that the cinderblock wall which was built in 1927, was not reinforced with anything and could collapse during a bad storm or with impact.
The district is trying to find an empty school to use for this year, but cannot find one and get it prepared by September 9. In the meantime, a plan to keep students with their assigned teachers has been set in motion. The school will be spilt up between three other schools with two grades put in each. Kindergarten and first grades will be to Lakewood Elementary School. Second and third grades will go to New City Elementary School. Fourth and fifth grades will go to Laurel Plains Elementary School. Ryan will continue to be the principal of the divided school, splitting her time between the three locations.
Two meetings have taken place so far for parents and teachers to express their concerns. The first meeting was on Friday, August 30 at Clarkstown South High School. The meeting lasted two and a half hours and housed over one hundred concerned parents. The second on Tuesday, September 3 wasn’t any shorter.
Many parents are questioning when the school will be done and ready to go back to. The school currently has no dates to release. The main goal at this time is to find another school to occupy for this year at least, in order to reunite the teachers and grades to one location.
“As of right now we do not have a place. A concern we have is one of a time frame. School starts on September 9,” said Morton at the meeting on Friday. “And we wanted school to start everybody on September 9. As you know our school calendar goes to the end of June this year. Because of the uniqueness of the calendar it didn’t leave us much latitude in terms of extra days off so we wanted everyone to start on September 9. The only way to do that was to find a way within our own school district to house the Congers students.”
Parents asked during the meeting if this is just an excuse to close a school to save money, but Morton responded that if that was the case, he wouldn’t have made the decision less than two weeks before the start of school.
Another concern is about splitting up families that have kids in different grades. Some of the schools have different start and end times and could prove to cause problems for getting kids on and off the buses. Morton and Ryan said this was a big distress of theirs but felt it most important to keep the kids and teachers together at least by grades.
All hope that the teachers and students will all be brought back together in some way soon. There are talks going on with St. Augustine School in New City to rent it out and St. Ann’s in Nyack.