An artist rendering of Friends Academy's planned 19,500-square-foot innovation center in...

An artist rendering of Friends Academy's planned 19,500-square-foot innovation center in Locust Valley is seen here. Credit: Courtesy of SLAM Architects

Friends Academy, a private elementary and secondary school in Locust Valley, is planning a $22.5 million construction project that includes new classrooms for science, engineering and business instruction, officials said.

Tax-exempt bonds issued by Nassau County will fund the project.

Friends, with nearly 700 students, hopes to open the 19,500-square-foot “innovation center” in fall 2024. It will connect to the 16,000-square-foot Kumar Wang Library, which will undergo renovations to provide modern learning spaces.

Ann Marie Tidona, the school’s director of finance, operations and strategic projects, said the innovation center will house classrooms and laboratories for biology, chemistry, engineering and physics instruction. It also will be home to a new entrepreneurial studies program and 16 Bloomberg data terminals, like those used on Wall Street by stockbrokers, financial analysts and others to track economic news.

Friends was started in 1876 “and our classroom sizes are much smaller than you would build in a typical environment today,” Tidona told a meeting of the county's Local Economic Assistance Corp. “So, this renovation allows us to provide an appropriate learning space for our students.”

Last month, the corporation’s board agreed unanimously to issue up to $32 million in tax-exempt bonds for the school's construction project.

Some of the proceeds will be used to pay off $9.5 million in existing debt, which was issued by the corporation in 2016 as part of nearly $12 million in funding for improvements to the 65-acre campus, Friends spokeswoman Andrea Miller said on Sunday.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who appoints the assistance corporation’s board, said the county “is happy to do our part in helping the school continue in its mission to give students the educational excellence they so deserve.”

Blakeman discussed the project with corporation officials on multiple occasions, corporation CEO Sheldon L. Shrenkel said, adding that educational institutions such as Friends are vital because “our businesses need top-tier talent and a workforce with the skills needed for continued growth and innovation.”

The school has a workforce of more than 200 people, with salaries averaging $93,150 per year for full-time employees, according to the application for bond financing.

Friends offers instruction from nursery school through high school, with 20% of the students receiving financial assistance.

The school was founded by Gideon Frost, a farmer, merchant and railroad promoter, who at age 78 opened Friends College for “the children of [the Society of] Friends and those similarly sentimented.” He died a couple of years later, according to the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

Society members are also called Quakers and their religious philosophy, dating to 17th-century England, continues to be taught at the local school, though enrollment is open to students of all faiths.

Referring to this heritage, Richard Kessel, the assistance corporation’s chairman, said, “Friends Academy has a long, storied history in Nassau County and [the corporation] was established to help educational institutions and nonprofits.”

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