Ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, I.S. 211 in Canarsie seemed beyond repair. But thanks to custodial workers, members of 32BJ SEIU, the school is reopening for students.

Sandy left the school flooded, with 6 feet of water in the boiler room and 2 feet in the cafeteria. For the next two weeks, the custodial staff at the school put in 16-hour shifts to clean out the saltwater and have the school ready for its Nov. 14 opening. On behalf of the 700 students who frequent I.S. 211’s halls, the staff dealt with a flooded and unheated building and were forced to wear heavy coats, hats and gloves while they drained, cleaned and repaired the building.

One cleaner, Conrad Drummond, mentioned that during the weeks of repair, his children would ask him if he was going back to the school when he put his boots on. “I told them, ‘I’m like a fireman,’” he said. “I work in emergencies. We would do whatever it took to get this school open again.”

Shirley Aldebol, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, spoke about the efforts of the union’s members.

“The cleaners and other custodial staff in New York City’s public schools keep the schools running every day for 1.1 million children,” said Aldebol. “The public is seeing now the dedication and hard work they bring to their jobs every day, including in emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy.”

Their work even brought Public Advocate Bill de Blasio to I.S. 211 to visit and congratulate the workers on a job well done. Along with lunch, de Blasio also showered the workers with verbal praise.

“This school is open today because the school cleaners, custodial engineer and other custodial staff worked nonstop for more than two weeks,” said de Blasio. “They put aside their personal needs and those of their families, to reopen school for the students, teachers and community of I.S. 211. They’re not alone. Across the city, school custodial workers set up and have helped to run emergency shelters for displaced residents. Even without a contract, they have done whatever it takes, putting in 16-hour days and round-the-clock shifts to repair and clean damaged schools for our children. As a public school parent and as Public Advocate, I want to thank them.”