by Joe Shahen
Earlier this school year, Riverhead Charter School broke ground on construction for a new, $14.1 million facility. The new building will allow the Suffolk County charter to expand its program from K-6 to K-8, and increase enrollment from 300 students to more than 500. It also will allow the school to upgrade its facilities and add much-needed amenities.
The school secured a $21 million Qualified School Construction Bond, issued by the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency, to fund the project. It did this after several years of fiscal diligence, allowing them to become one of only a few charter schools in the country to receive an investment grade rating from Standard and Poors. The bond will go towards construction on a new facility, as well as a complete overhaul of the school grounds.
Currently, Riverhead houses its facilities in three separate buildings: an old, historical schoolhouse that holds grades 4-7, a modular unit for grades K-3 and an administration building located separately from the classrooms.
“It is very difficult to have a principal in a separate building,” Michelle Dalpiaz, Riverhead’s Director of Operations, said. “Just the idea of having everybody in one building is amazing.”
The current facilities also are very limited in space. The school library is a wing in a hallway, physical education classes are conducted in the classroom and there is no cafeteria or auditorium.
When construction on the new facility is complete, the school will have a combination auditorium/gymnasium/cafeteria, a kitchen and a full-service library with meeting areas and resource rooms. Students will be able to enjoy a new basketball court, as well as a play area. The project also includes new drop-off/pick-up areas for cars and buses, parking spaces and a new access roadway.
While these additions will be a great improvement for the school, it remains an unfortunate fact that many of New York’s charters can’t make these kinds of improvements due to the fact charter schools receive significantly less per-pupil funding than district schools.
“It was extremely hard to start this project without facilities funding. If we were not extremely diligent to build up our reserve, we never would have received the bond,” Dalpiaz explained.
Last year, NECSN worked with the New York City Charter School Center and the Colorado League of Charter Schools to publish a state-wide facilities report, which found only half of New York’s public charter schools have a library, and less than half have an auditorium. A lack of equitable funding has prompted many charters to operate without being able to fully provide for their facilities, and must resort, as Riverhead did, to difficult-to-secure third-party funding.
The school’s new facilities should be completed in time to start the 2014-15 school year.