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Hempstead school district to lease temporary class space after lightning strike

Hempstead acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong discuss the Prospect

Hempstead acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong discuss the Prospect School with the school board on Monday in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead school board Monday approved a plan to lease the former St. Catherine of Sienna School in Franklin Square this school year to house nearly 600 kindergarten and pre-K students displaced after a fire at Prospect School.

The first day of school for those students still is unclear, but could be Sept. 17 — 12 days after the Sept. 5 official start date for the district's students, acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong said. Staff still will begin on the Sept. 4 start date as planned to ready the leased building at 990 Holzheimer St. for the students, she said.

“The Hempstead community has truly demonstrated their ability to come together at a time of crisis,” Armstrong said, thanking all those who offered and helped to find the new space.

The board unanimously voted to enter into a $479,052 temporary lease with the Diocese of Rockville Centre through June 30, 2019, subject to the approval of state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. The lease includes shared utilities, Armstrong said. 

The district’s insurance would cover $250,000 of the cost. The remaining would be covered by lease aid from the state Education Department and, if needed, the district’s fund balance, district officials said.

Armstrong said the district still is having conversations with state Assembly Deputy Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead), who at an Aug. 13 board meeting said she would provide $1 million in discretionary funds to help pay for the temporary housing of the students.

Officials are continuing to work on a cost estimate for repairing the damage done to Prospect School from an Aug. 7 lightning strike that caused the roof to catch fire, Armstrong said. The Peninsula Boulevard school, built in 1906, was closed in 2003 and reopened in 2013 after a 16-month $18.1 million renovation.

District officials have said the building will not likely be fixed until mid-March because of damage caused by the fire and water used by firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

District officials were scrambling to find a suitable building to house the approximately 72 pre-K and more than 500 kindergartners.

They and Nassau BOCES officials had visited a number of possible locations, ruling out those that didn’t meet the state’s specific criteria for housing pre-K and kindergarten students, Armstrong said. For example, some had no smoke detectors or not enough toilets, she said.

The district had looked at leasing space in a few locations and splitting the students up, but it would have been costly with additional staffing and support services needed for each place, Armstrong said.  

The Catholic school was one of six slated to close in June 2012 because of declining enrollment. It was not immediately clear Monday night whether the buidling was completely vacated.

The district will provide busing for students to the Franklin Square school, which Armstrong said should be no more than a 10-minute ride.

Once the Education Department approves the facility and the district’s plan to lease, the district must ready the temporary building for students, moving furniture over and getting technology set up, she said.

The district is required to meet the state's mandate for a minimum 180 days of instruction, and is asking the Education Department to waive the requirement due to the extenuating circumstances, Armstrong said. Without the variance, the district would need to use vacation days.

Carole Eason, Prospect School's principal, said she hopes to get more information out to parents this week, but had to wait until the board made its decision on the school building. Eason said she has been speaking with parents and sent out an initial letter, which is posted on the district's website.

Hempstead parent Leslie Titus cited concerns over what she called the lack of communication from school officials about repair updates on the building and where their children would go to school.  

She wasn’t sure whether she still wants to send her daughter Skyla, 5, to kindergarten at the temporary school and is considering sending her to a charter school instead. “I want her to start on time. I don’t want her to start behind by any means,” Titus said, adding that a late start date also could affect her work schedule.

Skyla said she’s just excited to start school. “I want to meet new friends and teachers and learn,” she said.

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