D.O.E. ignored cracks in schools’ walls, records show

The East Side Community High School and Girls Prep Lower East Side Middle School were forced to evacuate their building on Sept. 24, and have since been relocated. Photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  The city’s Department of Education failed to act on initial signs of structural damage to an East Village school build- ing that was evacuated two weeks ago, records show.

The building, 420 E.12th St., housed two schools — Girls Prep Lower East Side Middle School and the East Side Community High School. It was immediately evacuated on Sept. 24 after it was determined that the building’s eastern wall had begun to separate from the main structure.

But in March — six months prior to the emergency situation — D.O.E. was cited by city inspectors for a violation involving cracks in the exterior of the E. 12th St. building, defects in the parapet and an overall failure to maintain the building’s walls.

The violation, dated Mar. 9, was hand- ed down by the city’s Department of Buildings, and was categorized as “Class 2,” which, according to D.O.B.’s Web site, represents a “major” violation.

Yet, according to the city’s records, D.O.E. never took steps to fix the problems listed in the violation, which were summed up by inspectors as, “Failure to maintain exterior facade,” and included, “mortar washing out throughout parapet inner & outter [sic] sides, also bulkheads have large step cracks on roof exterior side.”

Inspectors also wrote that some of the building’s coping stones — which sit atop the exterior wall — had begun to shift.

The violation summary, which is avail- able to the public via the D.O.B. Web site, states that although there is no outstanding fine due, there has been “no compliance recorded” on the part of the building’s owner, which is D.O.E. Margie Feinberg, a D.O.E. spokesperson, declined to answer this newspaper’s question of why the department did not act to fix the structural problems when they were discovered in March. She responded only by saying that, “They were nonhazardous violations.”

Feinberg said “they” because D.O.E. was also cited for three other building violations at 420 E. 12th St. in March.

None of the other violations were related to the exterior wall, but two of them were also classified as “major,” and one involved plaster damage that allowed part of a fifth-floor ceiling to begin sag- ging, according to the city records.

Bob Perl, who has nearly 30 years of experience as a real estate developer in the East Village, told this newspaper that, based on the March violation involving the exterior wall, it would have been more prudent and safe for D.O.E. to act immediately — especially because of the fact that inspectors noted the shifting coping stones.

“I would get started as soon as possible to correct the problem in a case like that, because it’s always somewhat unpredictable what can happen,” Perl said. “If there’s been recent movement, you have to assume that it could get worse.”

Both the March violation involving the exterior wall of 420 E. 12th St. and the September violation that coincided with the building’s evacuation were listed under the same section of law — 28-302.1, which is described as “failure to maintain building wall(s) or appurtenances.”

Kalvin Kamien, a New York City law- yer who for more than 30 years has specialized in the construction area, said that based on his experience in similar cases, if a series of violations are cited under the same section of law at the same building, it is generally considered that there was at least some danger present in the initial situation.

“If the second violation cited the same section,” Kamien explained, “it would certainly appear to show that there was a level of danger in the first violation, and that there was some valid concern on the part of the inspector at that time.”

Along with failing to address the structural damage cited in March, D.O.E. reportedly never notified the principals of Girls Prep and E.S.C.H.S. that there was a potentially dangerous problem with their building.

Feinberg declined to answer when asked whether or not D.O.E. had ever informed the principals — or the parents of either school’s students — about the violations.

Since being evacuated, both Girls Prep and E.S.C.H.S. have been relocated.

Girls Prep is currently housed at the Bayard Taylor School on the Upper East Side — more than 60 blocks away from its original E. 12th St. location. E.S.C.H.S., which contains both middle and high school grades, has been split in two. The middle school students and teachers are currently at P.S. 1 in Chinatown, while their high school counterparts are at Norman Thomas High School on E. 33rd St.

Meanwhile, D.O.E. has not yet updated its original estimate of how long construction on the damaged E. 12th St. school building — which began almost immediately after the Sept. 24 evacuation — will take. The original estimate was three to four weeks.

But at a recent Girls Prep parent meeting that included a briefing from D.O.E.’s School Construction Authority, a department official reportedly told a school administrator they would be lucky if the process took three or four months.

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