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NEW YORK (AP) — New York City is pouring $500 million into repairing public schools and hospitals damaged by Superstorm Sandy — and that's just for starters.
With 23 schools and two city-owned hospitals still closed two weeks after the storm, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials announced plans Monday to put up $200 million for critical fixes to schools and $300 million for hospitals. That may well not be the final price tag, but it's enough to get going robustly on needs including new boilers, new electrical systems and roof repairs, city officials said.
Before Sandy, the city was grappling with a projected $2 billion budget gap for the next 18 months; the city has since spent more than $134 million on storm recovery. Officials plan to seek federal reimbursement for the school and hospital repairs.
But in the meantime, "we owe it to the parents, schoolchildren and everyone in need of medical care to reopen schools and hospitals as soon as possible," Bloomberg said in the lobby of a shuttered Queens elementary school where the smell of oil rose from the basement. The oil was being pumped out, having spilled out of boilers amid Sandy's flooding.
Some 26,000 students in storm-damaged schools are being bused to other schools for now. But parents such as Barbara Ingargiola are eager to get their children back to their own schools as landmarks of stability in disrupted lives.
Sandy sent 4 feet of seawater into the basement of Ingargiola's home in the Howard Beach section of Queens — "the first time in my life that I panicked," she said. The house got electricity back Saturday but remains without heat, and the family has been living at her mother's nearby home. Ingargiola's children, 10 and 14, have temporarily been assigned to schools about 45 minutes away.
"We know that we have to go on. We'll fix our houses. But it's our children — they need to go back to normality," she said as she stood among a group of people waiting to greet the mayor at his appearance at the closed school, which her fifth-grader attends.
The city also is facing major repairs to Bellevue Hospital, one of the city's busiest medical centers, and Coney Island Hospital. Both were evacuated after being inundated during the storm.
Coney Island is already running outpatient services, and Bellevue expects to start doing so Nov. 19, City Health and Hospitals Corp. President Alan Aviles said Monday. But they won't be fully operational until early next year, he said.
The City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on the school and hospital spending. The city's finances are in good enough shape to withstand the spending while officials work to get it reimbursed, Comptroller John Liu said.
Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz