Nearly 500 students are on a wait list for a school offering autism services on Staten Island, but now, plans are finally underway to meet their needs. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
Meghan Mattei, 16, is a student at Eden II, the only school she's ever known. When plans to expand it were announced two years ago, she said that coming up with a wish list was easy.
"We don't have a cafeteria," she said. "We just eat lunch in the classroom."
A cafeteria is just part of what's planned for the school's new campus, to be housed at the former headquarters of Staten Island Savings Bank in Stapleton. It will also have classrooms, a fitness center, a library, a computer lab, and rooms designed to simulate real-life experiences, like visits to the dentist.
Most of the money needed to purchase and renovate the five-story building came from fundraising.
When Hurricane Sandy flooded its basement and ruined its elevator, the school's executive director, Joanne Gerenser, worried about what those additional repair costs would do to her renovation plans.
"If you can't get something done, then you have to cut the quality of something else," Gerenser said. "As of now, we don't have to do that."
That's because of a $1.5 million gift from the City Council budget, approved by finance committee chair Domenic Recchia.
Recchia plans to run for Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm's seat next year, but he said that's not the reason for the grant.
"They told me that if they didn't get this money, part of this project would be in jeopardy," he said. "And why shouldn't this school have what every other school [has]? Smartboards, computers, new furniture?"
The school is expected to open in the spring of 2014. When it does, organizers say it will bring with it several hundred permanent jobs and lots of foot traffic to the Stapleton area, which is good news for those who live and work here.
"Five hundred more visitors to the Stapleton community," said Bobby Digi of the North Shore Small Business Association. "That's going to impact restaurants. That's going to impact local businesses, shops."
And hopefully, it will impact the lives of the students who will eventually go to school here.