posted 2012-11-21 23:01:09

Hurricane Sandy Causes Damage to Brookdale Complex

Severe Water Damage Closes Dorm and Nursing School

Kimberly Devi Milner

News Editor

The sixth floor of Brookdale campus without power as students were allowed 15 minutes to recover their belongings. Photograph by John Bolger
While CUNY schools have reopened in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Hunter College's Brookdale Health Science Campus, which received severe water damage, remains closed – leaving roughly 660 residents, and more than 160 sections of science courses displaced.

Hunter College administrators hope to open the 25th Street complex, which serves as a joint dormitory and nursing school, by mid-December.

As engineering and environmental consultants continue to assess the damage, Brookdale’s power and steam remains turned off, despite Consolidated Edison having returned power to the East Village and surrounding downtown city neighborhoods on Nov. 2.

"All these cars were submerged under water" during the storm, said an off-duty Public Safety officer, pointing to the 25th Street entrance of Brookdale, where barricades currently restrict entry.

As water surged from the East River on Monday Oct. 29, the FDR Drive– adjacent to Brookdale and the First Avenue run of hospitals – became a small river of salt water. Surging water lapped over the freeway’s lane dividers and flooded Brookdale’s basement, where the campus' main electrical control room is located.

According to a representative from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York – a state agency that owns and manages property – water filled the elevator pits, potentially damaging the building's only hydraulic elevator.  The emergency generator located on the first floor was also waterlogged by the storm.

Soldiers from the US Army and Air Force on 25th Street and Lexington Avenue loading FEMA food into trucks to be brought to a food distribution center. Photo by John Bolger.
Medical lab science facilities, a laundry room and computer-equipped classrooms in the complex’s East building – located approximately 600 feet from the East River – were flooded too. The tons of water washing through the basement continued to the west end of the complex, flooding the building’s decades-old bowling alley.

"Most of the basements in Zone A were flooded," said eight-year Brookdale resident and nurse, Perly Mc. Convey, who evacuated with hundreds of other residents on Oct. 28. Mc. Convey is currently living with a friend in Midtown West until Brookdale reopens.

A generator is currently running to salvage refrigerated science materials located on the basement level, said Hunter College President Jennifer Raab in an interview with The Envoy.

While Brookdale remains inoperative, courses in nursing, communications science, medical lab science, and physical therapy have been relocated to Hunter's 68th Street and East Harlem social work campus, Raab said.

"Today every nursing student has a classroom to go to," said Raab.  She added that collaborative medical partners like Lenox Hill and Weil-Cornell also pitched in to help students resume their academic courses, allowing students to continue clinical work, benefit from medical supervision and work directly with patients.  Weil-Cornell is also allowing the students to make use of their medical simulation labs.

Spaces not ordinarily used for academics, such as the college cafeteria and the president’s conference room are being made available to host displaced health science classes on a daily basis.

A course displaced by the Brookdale closure being conducted in the North Dining Hall of the Main Campus. Photo by Kimberly Devi Milner.
Throughout the storm the third and fourth levels of the Main Campus’ basement were turned into a shelter serving around 250 people daily for ten days.  At times, the effort had more volunteers than shifts required, leaving shelter leaders from the city’s Department of Mental Health and Hygiene to ask the extra volunteers to come back and serve night shifts.

On Oct. 28, approximately 23 Brookdale residents without an alternative place of residence spent the night in the school’s auditorium during the storm.  The second night, however, they were moved to apartments on 97th Street. Students continue to reside there and at City College’s dormitory.

“We are concentrating on making sure that our students are safe, have a place to live, and have classes they can attend,” wrote Vice President of Student Affairs Eija Ayravainen in an email.

During limited hours starting Nov. 3, Brookdale opened its gates for students to retrieve personal belongings. Residents complained of the building’s damp smell as they waited in the auditorium to be escorted to their rooms by officers carrying dust masks and flashlights. They were given 15 minutes to pack their backpacks and suitcases with items from their dorms.

The following week residents were allowed to return to clean out their personal refrigerators.

"Fifteen minutes is not enough to clean out a fridge that [is] festering,” said Music Performance major and fourth-year resident, Jospeh Tesoro.

Public Safety officers enforced the time restraint, forcing some students to leave their rooms and refrigerators sooner than they hoped. The Office of Residence Life provided gloves and garbage bags to residents.

In addition to Brookdale, two of CUNY’s largest community colleges also sustained severe water damage. The engineering plant, computer center and several theaters in the Borough of Manhattan Community College located in Battery Park City were flooded. Kingsborough Community College, which sits on the Atlantic Ocean, also received water damage to its newer campus buildings, and its academic center and cafeteria.  Significant amounts of sand from Kingsborough’s on-campus beach had also been pushed onto the concrete walk and roadways of the campus, aerial photographs from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration taken on Nov. 3 showed.  A vast majority of the trees around the KCC campus were also downed, the NOAA photos showed.

Aerial photos of the Kingsborough Community College beach before and after the storm. Hurricane Sandy moved a substantial amount of sand into the campus and took down a majority of trees. Left photo from Google Maps; Right photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Composite by John Bolger.
All CUNY campuses opened Friday Nov. 2, or the following Monday, except for York College, which continued to provide services for hurricane victims until Thursday Nov. 7, with classes resuming the following day.

"Dealing with a tragedy like this – this is a challenge," said President Raab. "We're really asking a lot of people and it's moving to see how people rose to the challenge,” she said, adding that administrators worked late hours despite also having been personally affected by the storm.

“I think people are handling the situation as best they can,” said Resident Life Assistant, Yasmin Zakiniaeiz, 21. “If they have family they are living there – otherwise there is emergency housing,” said the double Psychology and Biology major, who was residing at Brookdale for her fifth year.

“I thought we would be back in a couple of days, since that was what happened with Irene,” said Tesoro, referring to last year’s evacuation of the Brookdale campus that occurred when a category 1 hurricane approached the United States -- but diminished into a tropical storm before striking New York.