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Firefighters and housing advocates have voiced concerns about the safety for students at a Route 306 private girls school and camp that continues to operate without town approvals and with fire and safety violations.
While Ramapo’s request for a state judge to order the school closed awaits a decision, Congregation Bais Chinuch Ateres Bnos is running a summer camp and has held classes for more than 300 students in multiple trailer classrooms beyond the expiration of its temporary certificate of occupancy.
The school also has been issued notices of fire and maintenance code violations by the Ramapo Building Department and Rockland Health Department
Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht said Tuesday that the site remains in violation whether the operators are running a school for 10 months or a camp for two summer months.
“Our position is it’s illegal, either way,” Specht said.
Specht said inspectors Tuesday found some violations were not fixed but the biggest safety issue was overcrowding. He said inspectors found the 10 modular classroom units had at least 40 more students than the permitted maximum of 327 people.
He said that based on the overcrowding he and the town’s attorneys are discussing taking the operators to court on a separate legal action to close down the school.
Monsey firefighters also voiced concerns not only for student safety and lack of a Ramapo certificate of occupancy, but the school at 261 Route 306 is seeking variances to legally operate from the Ramapo Zoning Board of Appeals.
“This site is the subject of ongoing enforcement on the part of the town Building Department,” Monsey Fire Chief Andrew Layman said in a letter to the ZBA on Aug. 15. “I am concerned with the safety of the occupants and my firefighters.”
Layman wrote the ZBA that he doesn’t “understand how you can consider granting any variances until the other matters are fully cleared up and all violations remove(d).”
The congregation appeared before the ZBA on Aug. 15 to get variances for the school, which comprises 10 interconnected trailers for girls under 18.
Specht, a former ZBA attorney, said the zoning board denied the school variances in March and carried over the application in August until September.
Specht said the law doesn’t prevent anyone from seeking variances even if in violation of codes.
The ZBA has the “discretion to determine if any variances should be granted based on the New York State statutory factors, or if the application should instead be denied,” he said.
“Without speaking towards the merits of the application,” Specht said. “I am not aware of any basis to prohibit the application from being considered.”
Specht said the town has asked state Supreme Court Judge Paul Marx to close down the school for lacking a certificate of occupancy and a site plan. The town filed legal papers in February and in June.
The court awaits a response from the congregation’s lawyer, whom Specht said was Terry Rice of Suffern. He said the next court date could be Oct. 1.
Rice didn’t return a telephone call for comment.
Rabbi Ari Waldman, who runs several schools in Ramapo, is listed in court papers as president of Congregation Devrie Chaim, which bought the property at 261 Route 306 in February 2016. Waldman could not be reached for comment.
The congregation — like numerous others in Ramapo — received temporary certification to operate a school for two years with modular trailer classrooms with the understanding a school building would be constructed.
The school’s trailer permit issued in September 2015 expired in July 2017, Ramapo court papers say. The Town Board rescinded the modular classroom law in late 2017 when officials determined it was being abused and operators weren’t building schools within the two-year maximum time frame.”
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