Hempstead School Board member David Gates Jr. during a special...

Hempstead School Board member David Gates Jr. during a special meeting of the board at Hempstead High School on Friday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

The Hempstead school district’s Prospect School may not be fully operational until March, according to experts coordinating the renovations and repairs since lightning struck the Peninsula Boulevard elementary school and caused a fire a week ago.

“What we’re looking at, tentatively, is mid-March,” said Shayne Nichols of Renu Contracting and Restoration, speaking at a special session of the Hempstead School Board Friday night in response to a question by school board member Patricia Spleen. “And that’s to put things back, I won’t say perfectly, but beautifully.”

Nichols and other experts at the meeting at Hempstead High School, though, cautioned that they are still assessing the damage to the school, which houses up to 600 kindergartners and pre-kindergarteners. They said they are waiting for analyses from the district’s insurance firm.

The revelation came as trustees said they would craft a plan by the end of next week to house the displaced students. School starts Sept. 5

Trustee Randy Stith said that he was surprised to hear the March estimate since he was led to believe “that this was something that could be done fairly quickly.”

But the experts said earlier, more-optimistic timelines suggesting the school could open sooner were based on assessments that were premature, said Nichols.

“Unfortunately, when that statement was made, it was made before anybody showed up on the premises,” Nichols said.

Trustee David Gates asked for more concrete information, saying he sensed a "passivity" at the meeting he had believed was held so assessors could deliver reports that would yield a more definite timeline.

“This is not going to be a cakewalk tonight,” he said, adding that he was not criticizing the assessors. “I need to fully understand from start to finish how this process will look, how we attempt to approach it and what’s going to be the end goal.”

The Aug. 7 lightning strike sparked a fire on the roof, and the water used to douse it caused extensive damage as well.

“When would you be able to come to the board and say this is the date that we know for certain that we can be completed?” Stith asked.

“Once I’ve gotten a complete report from the insurance company, I can put together a more or less a comprehensive list or a timeline of what we will be doing, how it will be done and get you much more accurate” timeline, Nichols said.

The new approximation underscores the difficulty experts have had in evaluating the extent of the damage to the stately red-brick building.

Acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong has said assessors have found more damage since initial observations. For example, water has continued to collect onto the ground floor of the building and one expert said Friday that soot that had been removed showed up again later.

The school’s reading room, which housed more than a thousand books, electronic smart boards and computers, sustained extensive damage, officials have said, and surrounding classrooms, the adjoining hallway, ceiling and HVAC system have water damage.

Armstrong has estimated that the cost of lost school supplies could reach $80,000 per classroom.

“This is part of the process,” said Michael Reed of Elite Construction, adding that the assessors and engineers are in the school daily working as quickly as possible to get the school back online, and that he expects insurance company reports in the next two or three weeks. “There’s not a lag. Everyone knows the importance of this to the Hempstead community.”

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