A Brownsville school campus was evacuated twice this morning after students and staff smelled a “foul, chemical” odor and saw smoke inside the building.
The incident, which scared teachers and students and rendered afternoon pick-up chaotic, comes a day before Chancellor Dennis Walcott is scheduled to speak at one of the schools in the building, P.S. 156, during a town hall meeting for District 23. The building also houses I.S. 392, a middle school for gifted students.
Isbi Lopez, whose two daughters attend P.S. 156, said she was volunteering at one daughter’s pre-kindergarten classroom when she first smelled the smoke shortly after 9 a.m. She said students and staff evacuated to nearby P.S. 323, P.S. 327, and Teachers Preparatory High School.
She said her daughters were allowed to return to their school around 10 a.m. after the fire department deemed the building safe. But the two schools evacuated a second time shortly after, when staff found that the smoke and smell were still present, according to multiple accounts from students and teachers. Several students said the evacuations cut into lunch and most of the day’s classroom time.
Students and staff from the two schools returned to their campus again around 2 p.m. for dismissal, which took place on the school’s playground and basketball court. After-school care was cancelled for the day.
This afternoon, parents who arrived to pick up their children said they were surprised to learn that the building had been evacuated during the day. They said they were frustrated about not being allowed into the building, where many children had left personal belongings. Marge Feinberg, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said the building would reopen tomorrow. She said DOE officials had not yet determined what caused the problem today.”
“What about his coat?” one parent asked a teacher when she met her fourth-grade son at the playground gate. The teacher replied, “He can’t go in to get it.”
“This was the worst day of school ever,” the boy, whose mother requested anonymity, told her. “Guess what, two evacuations! And people were coughing.”
“There were two different smells,” he continued, before running down the street to join a friend. “We smelled oil in the hallway, and when we came back [before the second evacuation], we could smell, like, a gas.”
The problem with the building comes the same day as the city announces changes to its current capital plan. The amendement will add about 180 seats to a Manhattan elementary school in the overcrowded District 2, and it also includes plans for new technology investments such as increased bandwidth. But the plan does not address aging infrastructure and other campus problems like the one that occurred today.
As of late this afternoon DOE officials did not know what condition prompted the evacuation.