After two years of construction, Riverhead Charter School is officially operating out of its new $14.1 million school building, which it unveiled at a ceremony at the school today.
The new, two-story building includes bigger classrooms with updated technology, a library, an administration wing, new art, music and science classrooms and a multi-functional “cafetorium,” which will do triple duty as a gymnasium, auditorium and cafeteria.
“I’m just so excited for our students,” Riverhead Charter School principal Raymond Ankrum said in an interview today. “They can come to school and truly enjoy the space in which they’re being educated.”
The school opened in September 2001 as a K-5 school with an enrollment of 250 students. It revised its charter to add grade 6 in 2003 and again in 2013 to add grades 7 and 8, increasing its maximum enrollment to 414 students. Classrooms were previously housed in two separate buildings, with a third building serving as administrative office space.
As of January 6, all classes are held in the new, 50,000-square-foot facility, which is located on the same property as the old buildings on Route 25 in Calverton.
There are 18 new classrooms, connected by “common areas” — widened hallways that are almost as wide as the classrooms themselves. These common areas are separated from the classrooms by windows, allowing natural light to pour through, and they function as additional learning spaces for students.
“We wanted to incorporate a modern, open-space design while contending with the school’s budgetary constraints,” said principal architect Roger Smith from BBS Architects.
Smith’s firm has designed plans for other local school districts as well. That includes the $78.3 million school bond construction project currently underway at several schools in the Riverhead Central School District. Last week, BBS Architects was also approved as the architect for renovations in the Shoreham-Wading River School District.
“This is one of the most exciting moments of any project,” Smith said at the ceremony today. “Getting to see the kids’ faces light up is my favorite part. It makes it all worth it.”
The school has been operating completely out of its new facility since January 6. The existing buildings which previously housed the charter school are being converted into storage spaces.
There is also a new, 110-stall parking lot, featuring a large drop-off/pickup loop with separate areas for buses and for cars.
Perhaps the most exciting addition, however, is the multi-functional cafetorium.
The 5,740 square foot cafetorium space is complete with a stage, folding bleachers and a full kitchen wing. A dividing curtain allows for multiple uses of the space simultaneously.
Until this project was finished, Riverhead Charter School did not have a gymnasium, auditorium or cafeteria.
“Our students will have a chance to actually participate in physical education, instead of just doing it in a classroom,” Ankrum said.
Kindergarten teacher Phatima Mitchell said she was happy students no longer had to eat their lunch in their classrooms. “You can just imagine the mess,” she said, laughing.
The school is also equipped with new technology and wireless internet, necessary for not only a modern learning experience but also for the online testing requirements of the Common Core State Standards assessments.
“We definitely took a huge step into the 21st century with this building,” Ankrum said.
The construction was financed through two bonds totaling $21 million. One of those bonds was the federal Qualified School Construction Bond, which had never before been awarded to a charter school in New York State.
Stalco Construction was general contractor for the project, and SCC Construction Consultants provided construction management.
“I can’t put into words how much this means to the students,” Ankrum said. “It’s just such an awesome opportunity for the kids.”