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Girls Prep Charter School Looking to Expand on Lower East Side After Bitter Battle

The P.S. 188 building on East Houston Street currently serves three schools, including Girls Prep, the Island School and the special-needs school P.S. 94.
The P.S. 188 building on East Houston Street currently serves three schools, including Girls Prep, the Island School and the special-needs school P.S. 94.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

LOWER EAST SIDE — A bid by Girls Prep Charter School to expand its elementary grades in the building it shares with two other public schools was met with little resistance at public hearing Thursday, despite a heated battle over the space last year that pit the charter against a special-needs school at the location.

As part of the proposal, Girls Prep — which currently serves kindergarten through fourth-grade students at the P.S. 188 building at 442 E. Houston St. — wants to add one more class to its kindergarten and first-grade for the 2011-12 school year.

The building, also home to the kindergarten through eighth-grade Island School and the special-needs school P.S. 94, has room for 968 students but is currently only serving 701, or 72 percent of its full capacity, said District 1 superintendent Danielle Phillips.

By adding an additional class each year, Girls Prep would expand the entire school population to between 780 to 860 students at full capacity, marking a utilization rate of between 81 and 89 percent, she added.

Last year, an attempt by Girls Prep to expand at the site resulted in a fight among parents, the city and elected officials over the Department of Education's attempt to use emergency powers to force the expansion through.

The DOE ultimately backed off the action following an outcry from local parents and politicians over the effects the expansion would have on the P.S. 94's special-needs student, many of whom are autistic.

Girls Prep ended up moving its middle-school grades to a building in Astor Place as a result, and those students will be relocated to East Side Community High School following a vote on the proposal last week.

However, none of the animosity form last year carried over to Thursday's hearing, as representatives from all three schools sounded optimistic about the move.

"We have adequate space for all our children," said P.S. 94 principal Ronnie Shuster.

District 1 Community Education Council president Lisa Donlan called the proposal "highly agreeable" for all the schools involved, while one Island School parent leader who opposed Girls Prep's expansion last year said things have improved dramatically since then.

"I feel that we are better communicating with Girls Prep," the parent said. "I say, why not?"

Donlan mentioned that the only challenge to the expansion came from officials at the East Village Community School, which is "terribly, terribly overcrowded" and had previously sought to move into the space Girls Prep's middle school was recently approved for.

The school's principal cited a "serious environmental and structural crisis" in light of the discovery of the oil beneath the school's auditorium, noting that the scope of work to repair the space could require construction work that squeeze students even further at the location.

East Village Community School principal Robin Williams was not immediately available to discuss the matter Friday, but she previously stated that the School Construction Authority found no evidence of contamination during a recent round of tests.