A new wing opening Jan. 6 at Westbury High School will provide some relief from overcrowding in a district that has seen surging enrollment numbers in recent years.
The wing, paid for from a $58.5 million bond issue approved in May 2018, will feature 14 new classrooms and a ninth-grade academy. The school district also is adding 12 classrooms at the middle school, as well as making other upgrades in the district. The bond is being financed over 17 years, with the district expected to receive some aid from the State Department of Education.
Westbury's freshman started attending the high school in the fall after previously being housed at Nassau Community College in Garden City. That annex at the college now houses the district's sixth-graders, who are expected to move into their renovated middle school to start the 2020-21 school term.
Westbury Superintendent Eudes S. Budhai said the high school wing will have flexible seating and upgraded technology. The wing "provides a new opportunity for learning," he said.
The renovated high school had been scheduled to open for 2019-20, but was delayed. Budhai said that due to a supply issue, the new classrooms will no longer be modular but made of brick and mortar. That change contributed to the delay, he said. The same construction material will be used at the middle school.
The construction project includes science lab alterations, new boilers and pumps, and a new cafeteria at the high school, which will open in March.
The district, unlike several of Long Island's 124 public systems, has seen an increase in enrollment in recent years — mostly due to an influx of arrivals from El Salvador.
Enrollment projections provided by the district for the bond vote noted that the population at the high school is expected to increase more than 22%, from 1,657 students in 2018-19 to 2,023 in 2023-24, exceeding state guidelines for capacity. Last school year, the high school was more than 435 students over state guidelines for a building its size. The middle school was more than 150 students over state capacity.
Westbury's overall enrollment, according to the State Education Department, was more than 5,000 students in 2017-18. Ten years prior, enrollment was 3,772, according to the state. In 2015, the district proposed a $172.6 million bond, citing a surge of immigrant students, but officials pulled the proposal several weeks later amid local opposition.
Meanwhile, hallways have remained overcrowded, and educators have been using the library, stage and even the cafeteria at the middle school for instructional space. The district had to lease space from Nassau Community College, about 3 miles from the Westbury campus, to relieve crowding. About 390 sixth-graders are at the NCC annex this school term. The district had to get permission from the State Education Department for the temporary arrangement, including to house ninth-graders the previous school year.
With the new high school wing opening, district officials "felt that it was important to bring back our ninth-graders and start construction at the middle school to take the sixth-graders ... to alleviate overcrowding at middle school," Budhai said.
Ashgan Chowdhury, a freshman, said she is looking forward to learning in the new high school space. She took a recent tour of the new classrooms.
"Honestly, it's like really amazing to see how different it is," said Chowdhury, 14.