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Hempstead in hunt for school construction funds

Hempstead's Prospect School holds a ribbon-cutting ceremony for

Hempstead's Prospect School holds a ribbon-cutting ceremony for it's re-opening after being closed for nearly a decade on Sept. 9, 2013. Prospect School is one of two that the Hempstead School District refurbished. The district is now seeking funding for nine new schools. Credit: Jeremy Bales

Hempstead school district officials have embarked on a quest to secure state funding for nine new and bigger schools, citing outdated buildings and overcrowding throughout the district.

Officials are soliciting requests for proposal seeking a consultant to help obtain grants for the potential construction. The district hopes to demolish and rebuild nine of its schools, all of which are at least 70 years old, officials said.

"Most of the schools are outdated and way overcrowded, and have to be torn down and rebuilt," school board president Betty Cross said.

The size of the district's student population is growing because of an influx of immigrants, officials have said. Nearly 7,000 students are in the district, which had about 5,000 students 10 years ago.

The consultant would serve as the district's government liaison and authorized representative through construction and occupancy of the buildings. Proposals are due no later than 3 p.m. on Thursday. Officials unveiled the plan about two weeks ago, but updated it on the district's website on Wednesday.

The proposed multiyear capital improvement project would include reconstructing the vacant Rhodes School, the other seven elementary schools, and the middle school. The project would not include Hempstead High School and the Prospect School, which was closed for about a decade, then refurbished and opened in September.

"I think it is worth it to refurbish them, but in this day and age it would be more costly," school trustee Shelley Brazley said. Officials could not estimate the cost of renovation versus the cost of reconstruction.

The district's state building aid for eligible project costs is 88 percent. The district has more than 40 portable classroom units that need to be replaced with permanent construction, and the Rhodes School needs to be demolished and replaced, said state Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn.

"I have no set figure in mind, but I will try to help get the Hempstead school district as much money as I can. I know it is needed," state Assembly Deputy Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead) said.

The school board had already hired Empire Government Strategies in September for $5,000 a month through September to assist in obtaining federal and state grants and private funds for school construction.

The lobbying and government relations firm with an office in Uniondale was founded by former Democratic state Assemb. Arthur "Jerry" Kremer. Empire's vice president, Anthony Figliola, a former Brookhaven Town deputy supervisor, declined to comment.

Cross said she is not sure if Empire will be replaced. "If somebody can convince us that they're better, we'll certainly consider them," Cross said. "But we may end up keeping Empire for the whole package or in a smaller role. Depends on the responses we get."

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