With Midnight Expiration of Certificate of Occupancy, New Rochelle Elementary School Must Close – But Won’t

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The Temporary Certificate of Occupancy issued for the Trinity Elementary School in New Rochelle expired at midnight on Tuesday May 9th. Without a Certificate of Occupancy, the building may not lawfully operate as a school in New York State.

As Talk of the Sound reported last week, at last month’s meeting of the District-Wide Health and Safety Committee on April 26, New Rochelle Facilities Manager Carl Thurnau disclosed to the committee for the first time that not a single building in the District had a required Certificates of Occupancy when the school year began. The Committee is appointed by the Board of Education but operates independently from it and the administration and is charged under New York State law with monitoring building safety in the school district and advising the administration on health and safety issues.

After Thurnau revealed that for 9 months the administration had withheld this information from the Committee, Talk of the Sound filed a Freedom of Information request for all Certificate of Occupancy documents issued over the past year and all related communications with the New York State Education Department. On May 5, Talk of the Sound was provided the Certificate of Occupancy documents but not the communications with the State Education Department.

Talk of the Sound published an article providing details on the relevant law and copies of all Certificates of Occupancy and Temporary Certificates of Occupancy currently active in New Rochelle. No building owned or operated by the City School District of New Rochelle had a Certificate of Occupany for nearly four months, from August 1, 2016 to November 23, 2016.

Talk of the Sound noted that the Trinity Elementary School Temporary Certificate of Occupancy was due to expire on May 9th.

The law is quite clear that “no building which is owned, operated or leased by a board of education or a board of cooperative educational services shall be occupied or otherwise used unless the building has a valid certificate of occupancy issued by the commissioner”.

School officials did not respond to a request for information on the legal liability to the District in the event of injury, death or property damage in a building operated by the District without a Certificate of Occupancy. Experts tell Talk of the Sound the District would likely face significant legal liability and could expect insurance carriers to deny claims in illegally occupied buildings operated as public schools.

Talk of the Sound has raised this issue publicly and privately with school officials on numerous occasions but no action has been taken.