NEW YORK—Ethan Guzman, 4, is going to prekindergarten at P.S. 48 in a neat Washington Heights school building with a cream and brown brick facade.
But when he looks out of his classroom window, he may see his gloomy future–two moldy trailers with splintery railings that have, for the past decade, housed the school’s kindergarten classes. If nothing changes, he’ll be going to class in the trailers next year.
Ethan’s father, Emmanuel Guzman, has had enough. His two older children already spent their kindergarten in the dilapidated school trailers and he would like his youngest to have an actual classroom.
“They don’t like it,” Guzman said.
Especially in winter, he added, when they have to cross the schoolyard to have lunch, gym class, or see the nurse. The air conditioners in the trailers would break down from time to time.
Guzman joined fellow parents and the local Community Education Council (CEC) on a drizzly Tuesday morning to demand that the city remove the trailers by September.
The trailer boom started about 10 years ago. The trailers are called Transportable Classroom Units. The city deployed them to temporarily alleviate overcrowding. Years passed, and temporary started to feel permanent.
“When you go inside, there are leaks, there’s visible water damage, there’s visible mold, and you can feel the heaviness in the air of the mold,” said Miriam Aristy-Farer, president of the District 6 CEC.
She said she’s not the first CEC president to demand removal of the trailers, but she hopes to be the last.
There are district administrative offices on the top two floors of the P.S. 48 building. Aristy-Farer believes the office space can be reshuffled so all children can move in and the trailers can be used as storage space.
The state of the trailers at P.S. 48 is among the worst in the city, according to Mark Ladov, staff attorney with the New York Lawyers for Public Interest Inc. The organization has interest in cases related to public health and so it did an analysis of the trailer problem.
The lawyers learned from parents that many of the 320 trailers in the city are infested with mold and vermin, which are asthma triggers. Although vermin seldom find their way inside the trailers at P.S. 48, mold does.
The Education Department included $480 million in its proposed five-year capital plan last month to phase out the trailers. According to Ladov, the planned five-year buildup of 32,000 new school seats covers only two thirds of the projected space needs. Moreover, the department is currently reviewing the way school space is calculated and the result may uncover an even more severe lack of classrooms.
Regarding the capital plan, students and parents at P.S. 48 have nothing to look forward to. There are no new classrooms planned for the whole school district, Ladov said. He’s now helping the parents communicate with the city’s Education Department. He does not plan to sue, yet.