2008-08-22 / School News

DOE: BH School Will Open On Time

By Howard Schwach

James Hiller, 7, attends PS 256, a special education school with asbestos problems.  James Hiller, 7, attends PS 256, a special education school with asbestos problems. Public School 256, a District 75 special education school located at 445 Beach 135 Street will open its doors on September 2 along with all of the other city schools despite the fact that it may be laden with asbestos, a Department of Education spokesperson told The Wave on Wednesday.

"We have developed a work plan as part of an agreement with the United Federation of Teachers," said Margie Feinberg, a Department of Education spokesperson. "We have thoroughly tested the building and we would not open a building that is not safe."

Feinberg's comments were sparked by a DOE report that the peeling paint, crumbling plaster and broken tiles throughout the school are laden with asbestos.

The building, which was opened in 1950 as a community center for Temple Beth-El, was purchased earlier this year by the city as part of the DOE's plan to increase the number of seats available for students, to ease overcrowding.

For an undisclosed sum of money, the city got a 58-year-old building in need of great repair, local parents say.

Albert Hiller, James' father, wants the DOE to address the problems and fix them now, but DOE officials say the school will open on September 2. Albert Hiller, James' father, wants the DOE to address the problems and fix them now, but DOE officials say the school will open on September 2. The building has been rented to the city for the past decade and has, during that time, been used by special education students.

One of those students is James Hiller, 7, who is autistic and has been attending classes in the building for two years.

Albert Hiller, James' father, is the president of the school's parents association. He is angry at the city for putting his son and the other 100 students who attend the school in jeopardy.

"They're always taking a back door approach when it comes to [special education]," Hiller told The Wave in front of the building on Tuesday. "It's horrible, especially when you're dealing with kids with disabilities."

The school is designated, the DOE says, for kids with autism or severe emotional problems.

Hiller questions why the city bought the delapidated, deteriorat- ing building in the first place.

"There is no elevator and the place is literally falling apart," he said. "I like the care and concern that my son gets from the staff, but I worry about him in that building."

"The DOE had to know what was going on before they bought it," he added. "It is not a good place for kids, especially kids with problems."

Hiller added that a cell tower sits on the roof of the building, a relic from the time that the temple owned the building.

DOE rules prohibit cell towers on school buildings, and Hiller wonders when it would be taken down.

"They don't seem to care at all about our kids being in a dangerous building," he said.

Teachers at the Belle Harbor school have long complained about conditions in the building. They speak of falling ceiling tiles and the lack of heat in the winter.

"We knew that the building was very uncomfortable, but we didn't know that it was dangerous," Hans Marryshow, a veteran teacher, told Daily News reporter Meredith Kolodner.

As for Hiller, who has a bone disease that keeps him in a motorized wheelchair, he wants the DOE to open all the walls to "find out what the real deal is with the building."

"They have to fix the problems," he said. "They have to come up with one safe building for all of our kids. They have to answer the basic question, is this building safe for our challenged kids."

Hiller, 43, heads a foundation dedicated to helping handicapped people function to their fullest capabilities. He wants to build a gymnasium specifically for the handicapped.

Experts say that asbestos is dangerous only when it is "friable," loose in the air. They add that it could take years for problems caused by asbestos to show up.

Hiller knows those facts and wants the DOE to address them.

"These kids don't need anything else to hold them back," he says. "They already have enough problems."

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