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City plans to fast-track school repairs with emergency funds

Six city schools that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy won’t reopen until 2013, according to the Department of Education’s latest update on its recovery from the storm.

But the rest of the schools displaced by the storm, which on Tuesday will number 37, will likely be able to move back to their buildings by the end of November.

To keep pace with the timeline, Mayor Bloomberg today announced an emergency plan to add $500 million in capital funds, $200 million of which will go directly toward paying for repairs at the remaining schools. The other $300 million will help repair damages sustained to hospital buildings. Bloomberg made the announcement at P.S. 207, a school in Queens that was damaged so severely that officials aren’t able to pinpoint a reopening date.

“To our knowledge, New York City government has never before made such an emergency provision for additional capital spending because of a natural disaster and certainly not one of this size,” he said.

The budget modification is expected to be approved by the City Council tomorrow.

So far the city has spent $134 million in emergency spending, and Bloomberg said he expects that number to eventually “run into billions of dollars” as the city picks up more responsibilities that federal authorities and volunteers are handling right now.

At the education department, a breakneck pace of repairs continued over the weekend, leaving five schools ready to return to their home buildings on Tuesday. They join 10 others that were set for a Tuesday homecoming last week. All of the new additions, which will affect 6,000 students, are on the hard-hit Rockaway Peninsula, where many families are displaced from their homes as well.

Low attendance numbers last week suggest that thousands of students have not been to school for as many as two full weeks. Reopening schools, or at least getting students back into school buildings, has been at the forefront of the city’s recovery efforts.

Seventeen schools are expected to move home a week from today, and 14 more are set for a Nov. 30 homecoming. That leaves half a dozen schools that will continue to operate in relocated space until the end of the year.

Five of the schools will reopen on Jan. 2, the day schools resume after the winter vacation. They are P.S. 256’s annex in Queens; P.S. 288 in Brooklyn; P.S. 105 in Queens; and Millennium High School and an outpost of P226, which share a building on Broad Street in Manhattan.

The sixth school, P.S. 207 in Howard Beach, does not yet have a firm date for move-in. The department says only that it will happen “later in 2013,” and oil is still being pumped out of the building’s basement now, according to a spokeswoman, Erin Hughes.

Large red trailers outside of the school this afternoon contained 35,000 gallons of a mixture of flood water and leaked oil that has so far been pumped from the school’s basement, officials said.

Speaking in P.S. 207’s lobby this afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg said the school faces additional repairs because of damage to the school’s electrical system.

“It’s likely the building’s electrical wiring will have to be substantially or completely replaced,” Bloomberg said.

In the meantime, P.S. 207 students have been shuttled to two different host schools since last week and parents outside of the school said today that they’re still getting used to the new transportation plans that the department has drawn up. Fifth grade students and older have attended school in Long Island City, a 45-minute bus drive.

Until now, the department had also been unable to provide transportation for all students from the peninsula to their relocated schools, but as of Tuesday, the city will run 7 a.m. shuttle buses from each of the closed schools to their new sites. The department will also transport students who attend high schools in the Far Rockaway Campus from the subway if they arrive from elsewhere in the city. The improved transportation services are likely to boost attendance figures at the relocated schools, which last week were abysmal, though increased mobility and major challenges at home make attendance unlikely to equal its pre-storm rates.

Despite P.S. 207 being the only school without a firm timeline for reopening, the parents said they were pleased to hear that the school might have a chance of opening at all this school year.

“We were under the impression that they might condemn the school for the rest of the year,” said Marlene Casillo.

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