Assessing damage in Long Beach school collapse

Above the parking area where the collapse occurred Above the parking area where the collapse occurred at Long Beach High School are classrooms. School officials said the three-story building is safe but couldn't say when classes might resume. (April 7, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

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School officials in Long Beach said Saturday that the main high school building is safe, but they could not say when classes would resume after a drop ceiling in a school parking area collapsed Friday.

"The fundamental structure is safe," Long Beach Superintendent David Weiss said. "We don't anticipate delaying the opening of school, but of course we are going to take every precaution."

Classes are scheduled to resume April 16, after a 10-day spring break. The district would need clearance from several agencies, including the state Board of Education, before students are allowed in the high school building.

Weiss and other school officials met with engineers to assess the damage early Saturday. Officials said that the cause of the collapse was still under investigation.

The ceiling gave way about 5:10 p.m. Friday, dropping stucco panels, wires and insulation. The damage was in the ground level, a partly open parking area supported by columns beneath the second-floor English and Math classrooms. No one was injured.

"We're fortunate that nobody was here at the time," said Michael Bernabeo, 46, who has a son in the 10th grade and visited the school Saturday. "I'm hoping they return to class on time."

The school, built in 1971, has undergone construction and renovation for months. Crews from Gramercy Wrecking & Environmental Contractors of Wantagh were performing the work, company spokesman Peter Wilk said on Friday. The work crews were doing demolition work and preparing the site for removal of heating and cooling piping, Wilk said.

A $92.7-million bond approved in 2009 is intended to upgrade classrooms, buildings and fields. The construction of new rooms, building facade restoration and other improvements at the school are expected to be done by December, the district's website said.

PTA president Cindy Christou said there had been no problems with the construction project until Friday and that she was confident the district would not endanger students. She got several calls despite families observing Passover and Easter.

"Parents are concerned. They just want to make sure their kids will be safe," Christou said.

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