By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — Construction crews are working around the clock to ensure that students from a Lower East Side middle school who were unexpectedly forced to move into a new building at Astor Place will have classrooms by Sept. 8.
A total of 125 fifth- and sixth-graders from the Girls Prep charter school on East Houston Street were set to begin classes on Aug. 16, a full month before the rest of the city's public schools open for the year.
Most of those students were part of the school’s new sixth-grade class, but administrators made the decision to postpone the start of school due to opposition from parents and elected officials over how the expansion would affect students from a special-needs school that shares the building with Girls Prep.
“We have never wanted to, nor never was it the plan to displace anyone,” said Ian Rowe, the new CEO of Public Prep, which oversees a network of charter schools in the city, including Girls Prep.
He explained that principals from the three schools housed at 442 E. Houston St. had earlier come to terms with Girls Prep’s expansion, but that a state decision to block the move and subsequent protests from advocates for the special-needs school forced the middle school look elsewhere.
“We thought the [expansion] issue was managed by the school principals effectively,” Rowe added. “It’s a bit of a strange thing for us.”
Now, the school is preparing for the possibility of losing some students because of the move.
"It wouldn’t be surprising if we lose some because it's been such a challenging time," he said. "So far, so good, but we can't take anything for granted."
But the proximity of the new building at 51 Astor Place to multiple transportation options may even benefit some students traveling from outside the area.
Crews are working “literally around the clock” to renovate the 20,000 square feet of new space — which includes areas for dance and yoga — so that “once you’re in the building on the floor, you feel like it’s the same experience” as the former building, Rowe said.
Since the school only has a one-year lease in Astor Place, the bigger question of where Girls Prep will be next year still remains, Rowe said.
"Some [parents] are frustrated, understandably," he explained. "This has been a very difficult process.I think most of them are very happy they have a home."