Cresskill Middle / High School in Bergen County, home to around a thousand students in grades 6-12, will likely remain closed for the remainder of the calendar year due to severe damage when the remains of the Hurricane Ida hit New Jersey, said Superintendent Michael Burke. .
“There is little chance that this building will even be close to being ready until 2022, at the earliest,” Burke told NJ Advance Media on Saturday.
He added that the district had received permission from the New Jersey Department of Education to teach virtually when the school year officially begins on Wednesday. The district is actively seeking off-campus locations to serve as classrooms and would like to have “at least a few notes” transitioning to in-person learning by November.
Cresskill Middle / High School, located at 1 Lincoln Dr., sits on a swamp less than a mile from Tenakill Creek and is no stranger to flooding. Burke, who has worked in the district for more than 20 years, said the parking lot was still a bit flooded after heavy rains.
“We went through Hurricane Sandy and there were kids canoeing in the parking lot, but he never entered the building,” Burke said. “It had never happened.”
On Wednesday night, Burke was receiving regular updates on the storm. He thought the school parking lot would be flooded, but he predicted that the water would recede in the morning and staff could return as scheduled the next day.
Then he got a call around 11 p.m. The night watchman was stuck inside the college / high school.
The Cresskill Fire Department attempted to evacuate the warden, but the water was too deep to access it. The guard ended up sleeping in the middle / high school gymnasium, the only part of the school that wasn’t underwater, for the night, Burke said.
When Burke finally opened the school’s front doors Thursday morning, it was barely recognizable.
“I knew it was something like we’ve never seen before,” he said.
Every part of the building was covered in mud – the classrooms, the cafeteria, the auditorium – and a line of water visible at least 3 feet above the ground was evident throughout the school.
Fixing his eyes on the initial damage, Burke knew he would have to fight mold, fix the school’s broken HVAC equipment, and fix his destroyed boiler room. Without forgetting to replace all the school supplies and furniture.
“In 30 seconds to a minute, I knew we had to start remotely,” Burke said.
Since the foundation of the college / high school is made of ash and bricks, the principal said the underlying structure of the building remains stable. Even so, the remediation process is likely to take months. Burke said he hopes at least one wing of the building will be cleared for use in early 2022.
In the meantime, the school district is working with city officials, including Mayor Benedict Romeo, and the local emergency management office to find suitable off-site locations for students.
“We have to get these kids into a real place quickly,” Burke said.
Once these alternative locations are finalized and the damage assessment at Cresskill Middle School / High School completed, Burke said he would contact community members to secure donations to help equip the temporary classrooms with furniture and furniture.
“This is when we need to mobilize aid as quickly as possible. So I say to the community, ‘Stay ready, it’s coming very soon,’ ”he said.
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Jackie Roman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @jacqueroman.