Martin De Porres School Returns
Martin De Porres High School opened for the first time in the old Stella Maris High School building in September. Just two months into the school year, the students, who are labeled as special needs students by the NYC Board of Education, were forced to relocate because the building was heavily damaged by Sandy’s flood waters.
The school sustained $2 million worth of damage. Flooding left water and tons of sand covering the halls, classrooms, offices, cafeteria, and the gym on the first floor. Large piles of sand and a 55- foot stretch of boardwalk, with the benches and lights still attached, landed in the parking lot of the school, giving the school a closer-than-usual beachfront view from the cafeteria.
Almost all of the floors and carpeting had to be replaced, including the entire wooden gym floor, as it was soaked in sea water. The main offices, including the principal’s office, guidance offices, counselor's offices and the nurse’s room had to be restored, Edward Dana, Executive Director of the Martin De Porres School, noted.
In addition to a standard high school education, Martin de Porres students have the privilege of receiving vocational training. Several classes are designed to teach students important job and career skills. On the first floor was a culinary lab, an auto body repair shop training center, a hair salon training lab and a silk screening room. All of them were decimated and had to be restored.
The school lost costly items like stoves, microwaves, cabinets, tools, cars that were being worked on in the auto body shop, computers, furniture, printers, copy machines, exercise equipment and other items.
After five months, the school was able to renovate and replace up to 95 percent of what was lost or damaged. Funding for the repairs came from several sources. The Sisters of Saint Joseph, who own the building, were responsible for the building repairs, so some funds came from flood insurance owned by the Sisters.
“The Sisters are generous and remarkable,” Dana said. “They have been with us every step of the way.”
Additionally, money from the Fund for the City of New York, the Mayors Fund to Advance New York, The United Way of New York, a no-interest loan and some funds from FEMA are all going towards the cost of repairs.
In addition to having to remove debris, and gut out and remodel most of the first floor, the school hit other obstacles which prevented it from opening earlier. The school’s heating system and electricity were knocked out by the storm. Without proper heating, the school wasn’t able to replace the flooring right away. They did not get electricity back until March 21st, which also added to delays in the recovery process. On top of that, asbestos was found in the flooring, which added even more work to be done during the recovery.
The students of Martin De Porres were happy to be back in their Rockaway building after being displaced to a campus in Rosedale. The school opened its doors again on Monday, April 1st. By April 8th, all 190 students and the 90 staff members were back in the building. On the second week of their return, they celebrated with special “Spirit Week” events, but for some, just being back at the school was celebration enough.
Shakim Jones, a senior, is happy to be back so that he can plan out the rest of his final year in high school before he heads to college to pursue religious studies.
“I’m very excited and enthusiastic because now I get to plan my senior fundraisers,” Jones said, noting that it wasn’t possible to do while at the Rosedale location. He’s currently working towards organizing fundraisers for remaining senior year activities. He was also excited about the new renovations in the school.
“With bright new paint, new floors, a new PA system, new furniture, new computers, new labs, etc., there is a palpable feeling of optimism and joy in the school,” Dana said.
While Sandy was devastating, Dana also saw the silver lining of the storm. “One of the most important skills you can develop in students is resilience,” Dana said.
With Sandy serving as a huge test of resilience, Dana believes the special needs students have done pretty well despite going through so much.
Their resilience was also made possible by the staff members who worked long hours to make sure that the homecoming to the Rockaway campus was as smooth as possible.
While much of the school is back up and running with new and modern additions, not everything could be easily replaced. Martin De Porres High School is looking for an old car for students to work on in the auto body repair shop. The cars that the students were working on became boats during Sandy. They are seeking a used car that has the ability to drive forward and backwards to some extent so that it can be moved in and out of the shop. Any donation is much appreciated and tax deductible.