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P.S.197 din dents the peace - Some local residents rail against construction

Last week’s Day of Atonement was more like a day of aggravation for Midwood resident Steve Goldberg.

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, workers toiled outside Public School 197, creating an unholy din on what was supposed to be a somber day of reflection for many in the neighborhood.

“They are defiling a holiday and that’s OK?” Goldberg wondered.

But the latest incident is just one is a series of acts of effrontery.

Since September, noisy evening episodes have disrupted residents’ quality of life in this otherwise quiet neighborhood, Goldberg said.

“It is impossible to go to sleep. It is impossible to listen to anything on the television unless you shut your windows, and even so, that doesn’t help,” said Goldberg, who lives across from the school, 1599 East 22nd Street.

And it’s all perfectly legal.

The school has secured the requisite permits from the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB), according to Margie Feinberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Education.

She said workers are allowed to work until 11 p.m.—on weekdays.

“It’s according to the permit. They can’t work during the day [when school is in session] so they have to work after hours,” Feinberg said.

Caroline Sullivan, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Buildings, confirmed that the school had secured a permit to work until 11 p.m.

“The department has allowed work to take place after hours. This is so it can take place so children are not in the building, so it can proceed safely,” Sullivan said.

Feinberg said at the end of September, the contractor agreed that work would be stopped at 10 p.m. But workers would be permitted to “clean up” for an additional hour, Feinberg added.

“We try to work with residents as best we can, but the work does have to get done in order for us to alleviate overcrowding in our schools,” she continued. “We are doing the best we can with the time allotted.”

That’s just not good enough for residents living across from the school like Elsie Applewhite.

Applewhite had one word to describe the work: “horrendous.”

In the past five months, she’s had both her hips replaced and is trying to recuperate at home.

“It is hard for me to fall asleep at night,” she said. “The banging is very intense.”

And its no easy time for her 97-year-old mother either, who requires constant care and who has now suffers sleepless nights.

“It’s not fair,” Applewhite said.

Doris Ortiz, the district manager of Community Board 14, said she is hoping to negotiate “sensitivity” with the School Construction Authority.

She said her hope is that the heaviest, and presumably noisiest, work is started at 4 p.m. and that workers end with lighter tasks, like painting, for example.

“We are trying,” Ortiz said.

Initially, the work was extending all the way until midnight, neighbors said.

According to local resident Harvey Hecht, the work has proceeded as late as 1:30 a.m.

“I can understand that they can’t do it while school is in session,” Hecht said. “But anything past nine is terrible.”

And when you have to wake up at 5 a.m. to get ready for work, as Goldberg said he does, the grating racket generated at 11 p.m. by a power saw is simply untenable.

The work performed so far has only been preliminary, including the construction of scaffolding surrounding the school. The entire project could span 420 days, he noted.

“Where is the common sense that allows this work to take place until 11 p.m. on a week night?” he asked.

City Councilmember Michael Nelson agreed.

“This is crazy,” he said.

Nelson vowed to speak to education officials and DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri as early as this week to try and resolve the issue.

“There has to be something we can do,” the city lawmaker said. “We have to reevaluate the hours on certain days.”

Nelson said he wouldn’t want construction to disrupt a neighborhood on any religious holiday. “We have got to work on sensitivity,” he said.

He said the goal is to shave off at least two hours from the work schedule.

“They should be out by eight and no later than nine o’clock,” Nelson recommended.

Most galling, Goldberg said, is that there has been no notification that any of the work would take place.

“This is violating our rights in the community and there was never any discussion,” he said.

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