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International Prep unveils its renovations

The grand reopening was also a grand closing.

Buffalo school leaders and project planners spent a sunny Monday morning celebrating the $27.8 million renovation of International Preparatory School 198 while also marking the official end of the school district’s 14-year, $1.4 billion Joint Schools Reconstruction Project.

The lengthy and mammoth joint construction project between the city and the district required unprecedented logistical undertakings as tens of thousands of students have been shuffled between temporary and permanent buildings while the projects moved forward over five phases.

Now that the Joint Schools Reconstruction Project is complete, with 48 schools receiving structural renovations and upgraded technology, all of the district’s temporary “swing schools” have closed, with the buildings reverting to city ownership.

School leaders, architects and project managers picked a beautiful spot to conclude their series of grand reopenings. Known better to many as the former Grover Cleveland High School, the celebrated building now houses International Preparatory – or I-Prep – and STAR Academy. Enrolled students hailing from continents around the globe held flags of nine different countries on the steps of the grand Georgian Revival-style building.

The 1913 Lower West Side landmark, with its brick symmetry, clock tower and grand lawn, once served as a cradle for Buffalo State College before becoming a Buffalo public school in 1931.

Standing by the front doors beneath four pairs of tall, white columns, interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie said, “I’m the first to admit this is the closest I’ve ever been to I-Prep, but I’ve probably been by it 10,000 times.”

He called the place everything a school should be, a place of learning and accomplishment.

“This isn’t a gift,” Ogilvie said of the $27.8 million school renovation. “This is a promise.”

During the renovation, I-Prep students were temporarily located in the former School 87 on Clinton Street, which still boasted green chalkboards, unlike the electronic whiteboards now installed in every classroom, said Principal Carlos Alvarez.

Built in 1913 and greatly expanded in 1959, the school’s central building is reminiscent of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Now, I-Prep – and the smaller STAR Academy program located in the basement – boasts new floors, refinished door frames and hardwood floors, a new cafeteria, refurbished auditorium, and new music, art, and technical education suites.

Two seniors from Bangladesh, Afnan Ahmed and Wahide Dipa, offered a tour of the school, speaking animatedly as they walked past refurbished lockers and a new athletic corridor lined with trophy cases.

But when asked what’s the best feature of their newly renovated school, Afnan quickly answered, “Our teachers and our principal. He’s the best.”

They talked about the adults who teach them, describing how they go above and beyond to help them accomplish not just their academic work, but other fun activities that make the school a special place.

The school, which serves roughly 700 children in grades five through 12, is still considered a struggling school by the state. But Alvarez touted the academic gains of I-Prep, including a rising graduation rate and better scores on most of the state standardized tests over the past year.