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Sandy damage closes Lawrence High School

An exterior view of Lawrence High School. (Jan.

An exterior view of Lawrence High School. (Jan. 16, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Hundreds of students in the Lawrence school district are switching temporarily to different schools Thursday, after the high school was closed to repair recently discovered electrical damage from superstorm Sandy.

Lawrence High School was closed Wednesday, and district officials estimated the building will remain shut for eight weeks.

The school's 975 students will move Thursday to the district's middle school, and 400 fifth- and sixth-graders will transfer from the middle school to two elementary schools. All district students stayed home Wednesday as teachers and other staff moved instructional materials and other equipment between buildings.

District officials announced the moves after engineering consultants advised them that electrical wiring was corroded by seawater that flooded a crawl space under the high school on Oct. 29. School officials said the corrosion was not discovered until recently, after the crawl space was cleared of sand and debris.

Gary Schall, the district superintendent, said in a phone interview that engineers had advised that the high school could close either this week or next to allow repairs. Schall added that the district opted for the quicker closing, because of the possibility that any electrical failures would pose a safety hazard.

Asher Mansdorf, the school board president, acknowledged that some parents and staff were angered by the district's decision, but agreed with Schall that safety was the top priority.

"When the children get to school, I want to know that the lights are going to go on," Mansdorf said. "I want to know that the fire alarms are going to work."

At a district informational meeting Wednesday night attended by about 150 parents, students and others, some contended the high school's air quality may have been affected by mold -- a position the district denies.

"You have endangered our children!" said Shanon Blue, mother of an 11th-grader.

Others were more sympathetic to the district. "It's not a tragedy, it's a setback," said Terri Kennedy, mother of a ninth-grader and an 11th-grader.

Lori Skonberg, president of the Lawrence Teachers' Association, complimented her nearly 300 members for their rapid transfer of instructional equipment Wednesday, noting that many teachers had experienced flooding in their own homes.

Skonberg questioned district officials' decision to reopen the high school after Sandy struck.

"If the district knew those wires were down there [in the crawl space], why would they let us back in the building?" the union president said.

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