The city pursues two new high schools

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By ARDEN BASTIA

After the last meeting with the Rhode Island Department of Education on Tuesday, Warwick plans to build two new high schools, instead of renovating Pilgrim and Toll Gate high schools.

“We looked at the original vision and thought process from when the previous administration was here, and the theory was that we could do almost brand new schools with renovations for less money,” he said. Steve Gothberg, director of construction and capital projects, said in an interview Wednesday. “When we brought it to RIDE a few weeks ago, it became clear to RIDE and ourselves that between the timing of the renovations and the costs, the [cost] between new schools and renovations would be almost minimal.

Previous plans, created in conjunction with education planner Frank Locker, totaled around $ 330 million. The recommended plan for Pilgrim included a new two-story addition to the front of the building, a new facade for the exterior of the school, better security controls, new synthetic turf sports fields and increased parking. For Toll Gate, Locker recommended a third floor addition, a redesigned entrance to the building, enlarged bridges, new townships and a media center, the demolition of the Drum Rock School and new turf sports fields. synthetic.

The price would stay relatively the same, Gothberg explained, and the overall cost to Warwick taxpayers would also stay close to the renovation costs.

Gothberg said much of the decision to create two new schools came from the “nightmare” of interrupting student learning.

“A whole class of students would be affected and in a school that would be under renovation for their entire high school experience,” he said. “We need to consider the impact of student education. Would it be worth it? ”

Although he did not share details, since the project is still in its early stages, Gothberg has identified three possible locations for a new toll booth. Gothberg said he did not foresee a problem with building a new pilgrim on the existing land. The next steps, he explained, are the site explorations.

“The theory with two high schools is that both schools stay open while we build new ones, and there is virtually no impact on student education,” he said. “To buy or rent temporary classrooms, power them and provide plumbing, the cost keeps going up.”

RIDE still plans to offer a refund plan for Warwick, starting at 35%.

“We are in the throes of phase I,” he said, explaining that the key to getting reimbursed is to meet all deadlines.

Warwick schools must present the Stage I plan for RIDE by September 15, then the Stage II plan by February 15, 2022 in order to be before City Council and the General Assembly in May 2022. If all is going as planned, the measure will be on the ballot in November 2022.

“There are cashback bonuses that expire in December 2022,” Gothberg said. “We will need to have a signed construction manager on board by that date. If we reach all of these dates, there are three additional 5% cashback bonuses and additional 2.5% energy bonuses with each new building.

Gothberg also explained: “Some things are not refundable, but we would be refunded 95%.”

There is support for all new ones rather than renovations.

Deborah Lage, secretary of Pilgrim High School, shared in an email on August 6 that she was in favor of building a new Pilgrim.

“Because they haven’t kept up with the maintenance and new technology that we need, I agree that it would probably be cheaper (if they build it right) to build a new pilgrim,” he said. she writes, noting that the wiring, air conditioning and heating systems all require major repairs. “The WiFi is constantly turning off and the cost of repair must be too high. Ceiling tiles need to be replaced throughout the building, not just in the main entrance.

Toll Gate High School principal Candace Caluori said in a brief interview Tuesday that “as we move forward, especially with new technology and new styles of teaching, the building is obviously not current. . Students do not learn the same way they did when the building was constructed. To move forward, do we need major improvements? Yes.”

Although she wouldn’t say no to a new school, Calouri said she thinks it was “a waste of money” to tear down a school that is “still useful.”

“I am surprised that RIDE did not recognize the hard work that has gone into using a building’s current footprint and making it function optimally,” she said.

Gerald Habershaw, principal of Pilgrim High School, says the new schools are “necessary”.

“This building is past its prime,” he said in a brief interview on Wednesday. “We need cutting edge schools. We really need to get rid of the buildings that are just collapsing.

He supports the idea of ​​a new pilgrim, but is very keen to see new athletics fields in both high schools.

“They have to grass our fields,” he said. “They last a long time, and the grass fields are worn down. With grass pitches, you can play several sports on the same.

Habershaw is particularly excited about the few disruptions in student learning.

“Not all students who are interrupted will have the chance to be in a new building, so why disturb them further,” he said. “I agree with as few interruptions as possible.”

Obsolete schools are not just a challenge for Warwick, but a problem facing schools across the country.

According to a press release from Senator Jack Reed’s office on August 5, 91 members of Congress wrote a joint letter calling for a prioritization of funds to repair crumbling school infrastructure.

“An investment of at least $ 100 billion in school facilities will be essential,” the letter said. “A June 2020 report from the Government Accountability Office on the state of school infrastructure – the agency’s first report on the subject since 1966 – found that 54% of school districts nationwide need to replace or update major systems in more than half of their buildings. The 2016 State of Our Schools report found that state and local governments are spending $ 46 billion less than what is needed to update and maintain their school facilities.

Reed, among other senators, introduced the 2021 US Schools Reopening and Reconstruction Act in late January. He went before the Senate Finance Committee, but made no further progress.

This legislation would provide $ 100 billion in funds to states for competitive local grants for the repair, renovation and construction of schools. States will focus aid on communities with the greatest financial need, encourage green building practices and expand broadband access to ensure all students have access to digital learning, according to the press release.


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