The shuttered Prospect School in Hempstead might be welcoming back students next year, but a groundbreaking Monday at the Peninsula Boulevard site meant much more to the surrounding community than the ceremonial turning of a few shovels of dirt.
"We are here to celebrate not only the rebuilding of a building, but the rebuilding of a community, the rebuilding of lives, the rebuilding of an educational system," said Phillip E. Elliott, the deputy Nassau County executive for minority affairs.
The school, closed since August 2003 because of nagging structural issues, is slated to be reconstructed as a districtwide kindergarten center for the Hempstead school district.
The project, funded by an $18.1 million bond approved in March 2011 -- with few local taxpayer dollars -- could mark a turning point for the district, said community leaders at yesterday's groundbreaking.
Hempstead High School had the lowest graduation rate on Long Island last year -- 48 percent -- while English and math test scores were also near the bottom. Meanwhile, the district's average elementary school class size of 23 students was tied for second highest in Nassau last year.
But the Prospect School project, which will allow the district to move scores of kindergartners out of portable classrooms at Marshall Elementary School, signifies a move toward rebuilding the district, said Hempstead Board of Education president Charles Renfroe.
"We have a long way to go in Hempstead, but this is a start -- when we get our children out of portables," Renfroe said.
The Prospect School, built in 1907, had been an elementary school before closing, said Superintendent Patricia Garcia. The new kindergarten center will house 550 students, she said.
The district's kindergarten students are currently housed at Marshall School and the Early Childhood Center on Front Street, Garcia said. Canceling the lease on the Early Childhood facility, a rental, would save the district $350,000 per year, she said.
The new Prospect School will retain the bones of the old facility, but will essentially be a "totally new building," Garcia said.
Diann McCabe, a teacher with the district, said she is looking forward to getting into the new building.
"It's going to be fabulous," McCabe said. "It really boosts the community."
Funding for the project is almost entirely from state grants, except for $500,000 the district allocated for the project.
Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, one of a battery of local politicians who attended the groundbreaking, said she's looking forward to the new school.
"This is the first step towards getting those kids out of these portables," Goosby said. "I hate those portables."