Making South’s Courtyard Safer

By Robin Shum
Over the summer, a strange metal overhang was added to the area of the courtyard by the main lobby. “I’ve heard kids say it’s a chuppah. I’ve heard a lot of speculation—I heard it’s going to be a solar charging station for Mr. Mooney’s wheelchair,” said Assistant Principal John Duggan.
So, what is it for?
“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Mr. Duggan.
According to Mr. Alfredo Cavallaro, the Head of Building and Grounds, the construction was a “million-dollar project.” It was part of the Capital Proposition of 2012, which allotted $17.8 million for about 25 capital projects throughout the district.
The metal overhang, according to Mr. Cavallaro, would provide protection from inclement weather as occupants evacuated in the event of a fire.
The construction in the main lobby of South is the product of New York State Education Department fire safety regulations. School courtyards are required to have two points of egress from the courtyard into the building in case of a fire. These two exits must be open at all times, especially since the rescue windows of all classrooms lining the courtyard open into the courtyard. Thus, two sets of doors—one by the library and one by the front lobby—had to be replaced by doors equipped with panic hardware. In the event of a fire, the panic hardware will allow for the building occupants to exit out of the courtyard and into the building. A lock placed on the doors would prohibit occupants from entering the courtyard but not from leaving it.
However, to prevent the restriction of traffic flow by opening doors into the hallway, a vestibule was built around the existing doorway in the library hall. This extension is not needed in the lobby, where there is enough space for the doors to open outwards
Originally, the courtyard construction was not South’s first priority. South had requested approval for the asbestos abatement. But when a school requests a capital project, there are safety guidelines that must be met before the new project can be carried out. In requesting the asbestos abatement, a red flag concerning fire safety precautions for the courtyard was raised.
Construction began in June during the last week of exams. As of right now, the construction in the courtyard has reached a stage of “substantial completion,” meaning the building can be occupied. The project is in the “punch-list phase,” where the architect and engineer must inspect and identify any deficiencies that have to be fixed by the general contractor. Only minor punch-list items are left: painting the vestibule, replacing damaged tiles near the door, and laying new black top down.