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Island Park school swamped by Sandy reopens

Kindergarteners assemble in the school gym during their

Kindergarteners assemble in the school gym during their first day of classes at Francis Hegarty School in Island Park. (Sept. 3, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Island Park school Superintendent Rosmarie Bovino stood with kindergarten students Tuesday on the shiny, new gymnasium floor at Francis X. Hegarty Elementary School, exulting in the rejuvenation of a building that was swamped by superstorm Sandy.

"It has been such a labor of love to get back into the building," Bovino said of the school, which had been closed since Oct. 30, the day after the storm struck. "It took a community -- the community of Island Park."

The school district on Nassau County's South Shore suffered more than $11 million in damages. Hegarty Elementary had 8 feet of water in the boiler room and more than 3 feet in the cafeteria. The gym floor was destroyed.

The school's 350 students, in kindergarten through fourth grade, were shifted to Lincoln Orens Middle School for the rest of the 2012-13 school year. District residents passed a $5.1 million bond and school staff worked tirelessly toward Tuesday's reopening, Bovino said.

"I feel so bad for the families here," said Annie Neglia, a Hegarty physical education teacher. She wore a bright red "Stronger Than Sandy" T-shirt. "But they are coming back, and they are coming back strong."

School board president Matthew Paccione said, "We needed it to open just for the morale of the community."

Other repairs to the school included restoration of the stage in the all-purpose room and classroom cabinetry, installation of new classroom floors, new hallway floors, new boilers, alarm systems and hot water heaters.

Marilyn Sullivan, 7, was starting her first day of second grade. "I really missed this school," she said.

Her mother, Doris Sullivan, said the family still is displaced and continues to struggle with the storm's aftermath. Marilyn's return to school, she said, was "step one to normalcy."

East Rockaway, another hard-hit community, also held its first day of school Tuesday. Junior and senior high school students returned to their building in late April, and elementary students at Rhame Avenue returned six weeks after the storm, Superintendent Lisa Ruiz said.

"Our buildings are in great shape," she said.

Long Beach school officials are eagerly awaiting Monday's opening of West Elementary School, also closed since the storm. About 350 K-5 students were shifted among two other elementary schools in the district.

"We were able to get the gym open for the fifth-grade moving-up ceremony last June, and that was really important for the students, faculty and families, especially on the West End," Superintendent David Weiss said. "For us, getting West back and going was a priority -- for morale."


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