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Repairs to storm-damaged Hempstead school expected to cost $10 million to $15 million

Repairs to Prospect School at 265 Peninsula Blvd.

Repairs to Prospect School at 265 Peninsula Blvd. in Hempstead, shown on Feb. 13, are expected to cost $10 million to $15 million, district officials said. Lightning struck the school's roof on Aug. 7, 2018, resulting in fire and water damage. Credit: Howard Schnapp

An estimated $10 million to $15 million in repairs at Hempstead's Prospect School is expected to be complete by the end of March, more than seven months after a lightning strike caused significant fire and water damage, school district officials said.

The district is responsible for a $250,000 deductible and the remainder will be covered by insurance, said Regina Armstrong, the school system's acting superintendent. The total cost has not been finalized because the district still is assessing how much technology, such as tablet computers, must be replaced.

“It’s been one cohesive effort to make sure that everything is moving in a timely manner and that things are being put back together better than they were before the fire — including a lightning rod,” Armstrong said.

The stately redbrick school on Peninsula Boulevard, which was built in 1906, was closed in 2003 and reopened in 2013 after an $18.1 million, 16-month renovation. Lightning struck the roof Aug. 7 — the night a powerful electrical storm swept across Long Island — and water used by firefighters added to the fire damage.

Those months ago, with the 2018-19 school year starting Sept. 5, administrators and the school board rushed to find alternative space for about 600 prekindergarten and kindergarten students slated to attend Prospect. The district arranged to lease the former St. Catherine of Sienna School in Franklin Square from the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

The students, who started classes Sept. 17 because of the situation, will finish out the academic year there and return to Prospect in the fall, the acting superintendent said.

The district is paying $479,052 to lease St. Catherine of Sienna through June 30 and plans to move out after the last day of classes June 26. Up to $250,000 will be covered by the district’s insurance, and the remaining costs will be covered by state lease aid and, if needed, the district’s reserve fund, Armstrong said.

Repairs to the two-story Prospect School, which also has a basement level, have been “intensive and extensive,” said Michael Reed, chief executive officer of Elite Construction Co. of NY, which is managing the project. The company, based in Garden City, also oversaw the school renovations completed in 2013. The general contractor is RENU Contracting and Restoration, based in Copiague.

“Basically, we’re doing a reconstruction of the building,” Reed said.

In total, 22 classrooms were damaged, along with other auxiliary and conference rooms and the main office, he said. The reading room, which housed more than 1,000 books, electronic smartboards and computers, sustained considerable fire damage.

“It was extensive damage throughout the building. A lot of the walls had to be removed,” Reed said, adding that new insulation and new floors also had to be put in. The work includes a new fire alarm system and repair of the wiring for technology and security systems.

Beams, trusses and columns in the attic had to be replaced, which was challenging because they were part of the original wood structure, he said.

Two to three students who earned their certification through the district's construction program have helped with the repairs, earning real-world experience, Armstrong said.

School board members and administrators previously discussed their hope to have air conditioning installed while repairs were being done, but the money is not available, Armstrong said.

Earlene Hooper — the Assembly's former deputy speaker who represented the Assembly district that includes Hempstead from 1988 until her defeat last fall — said at a school board meeting in mid-August that she would give the district $1 million in discretionary funds to help pay for expenses, including the lease to temporarily house the students.

The district has not heard anything about the money since, Armstrong said.

Hooper could not be reached for comment.

Taylor R. Raynor, who won the District 18 seat, said such discretionary money typically follows the Assembly member.

Raynor said she discussed the funding with the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, which handles budgetary legislation, and has requested that Hooper's promises be honored. “They’re doing their very best to address those needs,” Raynor said.

Assembly majority spokesman Michael Whyland said they have been in touch with the state Education Department to “assess the appropriate steps forward.”

Lawmakers are working on the state's budget for 2019-20, which is due by March 31, when the fiscal year ends.

In regard to the students' delayed start, it was unclear last week if the state Education Department will waive the requirement for a minimum 180 days of instruction because of the extenuating circumstances.

Students and staff settled in well at St. Catherine of Sienna at 990 Holzheimer St. in Franklin Square, building Principal Carole Eason said. The school is slightly more than 3 miles due west of Prospect, typically about a 15- to 20-minute drive.

“The pre-K and kindergarten programs are running well,” she said. “Although we’re in a new location from an instructional standpoint, the children are receiving exactly what they would have been receiving had they been at Prospect School.”

Logistics, such as transportation, have posed some challenges, Eason said. While pre-K students get curb-to-curb pickup, kindergarten students are transported from their home elementary school to St. Catherine’s. If a student misses the bus, his or her parent or guardian is responsible for taking the child to the school in Franklin Square.

Communication has been key in keeping parents and the bus company informed of transportation changes, Eason said.

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