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City probes collapse at PS 122

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Nearly a week after scaffolding five stories high crashed onto the school yard of PS 122 in Astoria, city officials said their investigation would soon determine the cause of the accident, which frightened students and parents but resulted in no injuries.

“We do not yet know exactly why this came down,” said Jerry Cohen, an assistant commissioner with the city Department of Design and Construction, at an open meeting with some two dozen parents Monday morning in the school auditorium.

The scaffolding, erected last summer along the 23rd Street side of PS 122 for a masonry parapet renovation overseen by the DDC, collapsed about 9:30 a.m. Oct. 17 during a heavy windstorm. The five-story structure damaged four cars and ripped limbs from two large trees. It was reduced to a tall pile of twisted metal pipes and wood in the small grassy courtyard that separates the school from the street.

Police, fire and emergency medical teams responded immediately. Had the scaffolding come down an hour earlier, when students and their parents congregated at the 23rd Street entrance before school, school officials said there could have been heavy casualties.

“Thank God there were no pedestrians or children or parents or anybody outside on that side of the street,” said Principal Mary Kojes. “I consider that a miracle, because in terms of timing if it had happened at any other time, then it could have been a tragedy.”

The collapse caused little disturbance within the school and instruction continued unimpeded, although extra guidance counselors arrived to help calm students’ fears.

Meanwhile, a fire raging for several hours at a nearby furniture factory clouded the sky with smoke, leading some parents and neighbors to fear the school was either burning or had been struck by terrorists.

The debris from the scaffolding was removed within 12 hours, but workers remained for days afterward to clear fallen branches from the damaged trees.

The DDC immediately hired a private consultant to determine the cause of the collapse, and Cohen told parents Monday the preliminary report should be completed by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, students cannot use the 23rd Street entrance until the investigation is complete and that side of the building is deemed safe.

An officer with Lefkas Contracting Corporation, the Astoria company doing the renovation, said evidence suggests the collapse occurred because anchors were not effectively installed. High winds were also considered a likely factor.

York Scaffolding, the company that erected the scaffolding, did not return repeated phone calls for comment.

Inspectors have been sent to evaluate the scaffolding York erected at other building construction sites, including schools, said DDC spokesman John Spavins.

“We’re always incredibly vigilant in terms of all our construction projects that are going on, and we will continue to do so,” said Board of Ed spokesman Kevin Ortiz. “We’re just incredibly happy that no one was hurt.”

Work on the affected side of the school had already been completed before the collapse occurred, and the contractor was only a day or so away from having the scaffolding removed.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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