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Philly schools closed Tuesday; District prepares for flooding in some buildings

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Benjamin Herold, for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

As the city prepares to bear the full brunt of Hurricane Sandy, all School District of Philadelphia schools and administrative offices will remain closed Tuesday.

"The safety of our students … is extremely important," said Superintendent of Schools William Hite during a Monday afternoon press conference at District headquarters. "Taking everything into consideration, primarily their safety, it is the decision to close tomorrow."

Catholic schools will also be closed Tuesday.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter encouraged area charter schools to follow suit.

For a full list of regional school closings, check out NewsWorks partner WCAU-NBC10.

Monday afternoon, District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said there had not yet been any reports of damage to Philadelphia school facilities. But Gallard said the District had made extra preparations at roughly a dozen schools across the city that are prone to flooding, including Pepper Middle School near Philadelphia International Airport.

"That building has always been a problem for us. It’s built basically in a flood zone and can get up to three or four feet [of water]," Gallard said.

"We have back-up generators and pumps ready to go."

A District crew is also standing by at the school.

Jeffrey Cardwell, the District’s senior vice president of facilities and operations, said preparations for Sandy began Friday with inspections of buildings, drains being cleared, windows being locked, and the like. Crews were out over the weekend making repairs to some buildings, and inspections and assessments continued through Monday.

"All of our buildings, as of last check at 2 p.m., were fine," Cardwell said.

Cardwell lauded the District’s "game plan" for preparing for, and responding to, Sandy.

"We have strategically placed equipment throughout the city so if we need to make emergency repairs, we are ready," he said. "Everything is gassed up and ready to be activated."

Officials said that because the District is self-insured, it would normally have to pay for any overtime, storm preparations, and repairs resulting from storm damage out of its already stretched budget. But because President Obama declared a federal emergency on Monday, the District will be eligible to apply to the federal government to pick up the tab for expenses related to preparations made up to 24 hours before the storm, manpower and equipment deployed during the emergency, and for repairs after the storm leaves.

"We are tracking our time and materials during the storm," Cardwell said. "The government will determine what is reimbursable."

Three city high schools — Fels, Roxborough, and West Philadelphia — remain open as city-run shelters. As of 2:45 pm Monday, about 300 people and a few dozen pets had sought shelter at the schools, according to city officials.

"We still have plenty of capacity," said Nutter.

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