“A private elementary school for girls on the grounds of the former Edwin Gould property opened last month without permits and is not in compliance with zoning and fire code regulations, according to village officials.
Nonetheless, Bais Yaakov Elementary School of Rockland County is continuing to operate while the property owner works with the village to try to meet those requirements, representatives of both sides told The Journal News this week. The Edwin Gould property, an institutional campus most recently used as a residential home for troubled youths from New York City, had been vacant for nearly a decade. In early December, residents told The Journal News, they contacted village officials when they first began seeing what appeared to be construction work on the 145- acre property. Bruce Goldsmith said he and his neighbors also started seeing yellow school buses and cars dropping off girls at the grounds along Chestnut Ridge Road, also known as Route 45. South Spring Valley Fire Chief Chris Van-Schaick said the fire department found the school in operation when responding to a report from residents of smoke coming from one of the buildings on Dec. 8. VanSchaick said he and village inspectors sought to return to the property to do a full inspection, but were unable to do so until a week later, on Dec. 13, because the property owner’s representative initially denied them access. He said the owners had set up a security gate and guards at the two entrances to the sprawling campus. Once the inspection was conducted, village Code Enforcement Officer Everette Bierker slapped the Brooklynbased owner, Chestnut Ridge Ventures LLC, with seven violations of the village and state fire codes, according to a violation notice issued to the owner on Wednesday. The violations included failure to have a certificate of fire safety compliance, operating a school without that certificate, not providing copies of information on the maintenance of the fire protection system and making alterations to the fire system without permits. Village Building Inspector Russell Gliniecki and Fire Inspector Kim Wepler said additional questions remain about whether the electrical and plumbing work done by the property owner in late November into early December meets codes. They also maintain the school needs to file site plans and seek a certificate of occupancy.
VanSchaick and the village inspectors said the school had connected to the county fire system on Thursday so that fire dispatchers will be notified automatically when the school’s fire alarms go off. But that step and others — including getting the work certified and having the buildings inspected — should have occurred before the school opened its doors. “They put the cart before the horse,” Van-Schaick said. “I feel they jeopardized the lives of the kids and volunteer firefighters.” Going forward, he said, “I am going to make sure things are done correctly.”
“The village’s position is presently the owners and occupants on the property do not have the proper permits related to the use they are establishing,” Chestnut Ridge Village Attorney Walter Sevastian said. “We are assessing our options to try and get those permits in place.” Mayor Rosario “Sam” Presti, an attorney and former Planning Board member, said what is perceived as the school’s stealth opening caught people by surprise. “It’s been frustrating for us and our residents,” he said, adding, “Everyone has to operate by the rules.” The village requires Board of Trustees’ approval for a special permit to run a school, but Presti said that shouldn’t be a problem given the site’s history. The property was used as a farm and schools as early as 1863, as well as by the Salvation Army. The Edwin Gould Foundation used the grounds for education starting in the 1920s, and it later served as a public school run by the Lakeside Treatment Facility for troubled students.
There are other issues beyond the special permit and building inspections.
The Rockland County Health Department also inspected several buildings on the property under the county sanitary code, which covers kitchens and dormitories. County Executive Ed Day said the health department found an unpermitted dormitory believed to have been newly set up in a separate building on the property and ordered the beds removed.
That building is not connected to Bais Yaakov, whose young students will not be living on campus, officials said. “All this does is create mistrust and questions by people,” Day said of the entire situation. “All I want is the rule of law to be followed.” Read the complete Journal News story here.