Soundproofing Silences Schools
By John McLoughlin
Schoolchildren throughout Rockaway will have quieter classrooms as a result of a $15 million Port Authority program to fund soundproofing of schools against aircraft noise.
The Port Authority approved funding of 11 New York schools affected by noise from La Guardia and JFK airports, and nine New Jersey schools affected by noise from Newark International and Teterboro airports. The soundproofing of these 20 schools is the largest number of schools ever authorized to receive funds in a single year.
When this latest round of soundproofing is complete, all schools in federally defined "noise-affected areas" around Port Authority airports will be fully soundproofed. Since the Port Authority's school-soundproofing program began in 1983, the bi-state agency has committed $120 million in federal and Port Authority money to soundproof 73 schools in New York and New Jersey.
"We take seriously our role as a good neighbor, so we have decided to accelerate our efforts to make sure schoolchildren in the region can have a quiet learning environment," said William R. DeCota, Port Authority director of aviation. "This program benefits thousands of schoolchildren in both New York and New Jersey. It cuts classroom noise levels in half. In addition, it improves a school's appearance and reduces its energy costs through the installation of mechanical ventilation systems and acoustical windows."
In the year 2000 funding, local schools slated for soundproofing include Middle School 180, Middle School 198 and Beach Channel High School. Schools planned for future soundproofing include P.S. 42 in Arverne and Yeshiva Darchei Torah and Tapeinu School for Girls in Far Rockaway. P.S. 104, P.S. 183, and St. Rose of Lima School have already been soundproofed.
According to Port Authority spokesperson Greg Trevor, individual schools hire consultants to analyze the necessary improvements needed to soundproof the school. Such work includes thicker windows with a larger distance between panes, reinforcing ceilings, improving doors, and preventing sound from coming through the ventilation system.
The soundproofing program is a joint effort of the Port Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration, which contributes up to 80 percent of the funding under its Airport Improvement Program. The Port Authority administers the program and provides the balance of the funds. Each of the schools meets eligibility criteria set by the FAA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Councilman Al Stabile said he was "delighted" with the Port Authority's plans. "Many parents and teachers have complained to me that children are constantly distracted from their studies because of the noise. These children have a right to an environment conductive to learning, not subject to almost constant distraction."
Port Authority officials said they are continuing to strive to reduce aircraft noise, presently lobbying the FAA to mandate "Stage 4" aircraft. In addition, the Port Authority is lobbying the FAA to redesign flight patterns, which would reduce flight delays and aircraft noise throughout the region, providing relief to residents.
Congressman Anthony Weiner, a longtime advocate of reducing aircraft noise, had some harsh words for the Port Authority. "I am heartened that the Port Authority has taken notice of the public outcry over their inaction on the problem of air noise," Weiner said. "Continuing the policy of soundproofing schools near airports is certainly important, but it does not answer the question of why the Port Authority has failed to put any of its per-ticket fees toward noise mitigation programs. Homes and businesses throughout New York and New Jersey suffer everyday from aircraft noise. Surely the Port Authority can do better."