Most of the 300 students at the Riverhead Charter School in Calverton turned out early Thursday for a ceremonial groundbreaking for a new $14.1 million building that school officials hope will be ready for use by next fall.
The new structure will have 18 classrooms, enough space to house the current K-7 student body and to add an eighth grade to what is Suffolk County's largest charter school.
The 15 seventh-graders are expected to become the school's first eighth-grade class next year, while three kindergarten classes of 25 students each will be admitted in 2014, compared with the two classes this year.
"We're expanding from the bottom," explained Ray Ankrum, the school's executive director and principal.
Eventually, school officials hope to have 500 students.
The new, two-story 50,000-square-foot building will give the school its first auditorium/gymnasium. It will also have a library, music room and art and science rooms. "We're very happy," Ankrum said. "We won't have to migrate between two buildings."
All students will be in the new building. One temporary prefabricated building now on the 5.8-acre site will be removed after the new building opens. Another building -- a century-old wood-shingled building facing Middle Country Road -- will be used for other purposes, possibly a pre-K school, officials said.
Work actually started last month around Labor Day, shortly after the town approved final plans for the school. Ground clearing began, and traffic patterns for dropping children off and picking them up have been changed.
When completed, the school will have a parking lot for 110 cars.
The design calls for mixing on-site and modular construction. The prefab modules -- 11 feet high, and 14 feet wide -- will be trucked in from Pennsylvania. The general contractor, Stalco Construction of Islandia, said using the 30- to 50-foot long modules will cut construction time by up to 30 percent.
The non-tuition Riverhead Charter school opened in Calverton in 2001, and currently has students from 14 different school districts.