Schools identify top needs for $40 million bond
If a $40 million bond for school improvements passes successfully through the Rhode Island legislature and is then voted upon favorably by the residents of Warwick, it will result in the ability to bring all 12 necessary fire alarm systems up to code, all necessary roof repairs for schools district-wide and 14 ADA-compliant playgrounds to be modified out of existing playgrounds or built new at each of the city’s elementary schools.
The full scope of the school improvements, including an additional $5.2 million that will be funded through the school’s capital reserve plan (a budget account specifically for school repairs that is also eligible for state reimbursement), will be revealed to the public at the Feb. 13 meeting of the Warwick School Committee at Warwick Veterans Junior High School (executive session starts at 6 p.m.).
“If we don’t fix this problem, it’s not going to go away. It’s going to compound,” said Superintendent Philip Thornton on Wednesday during a breakdown of the updated improvement plan, which was crafted following the Jan. 30 meeting of the Warwick City Council where the original $85 million plan was whittled down. “So we have to keep advocating to fix the schools we have for our teachers and students.”
The improvements scheduled would be phased in over the course of five years – beginning with concrete repairs to the front steps at Winman and ADA compliance work at John Brown Francis funded through the capital reserve budget this summer – and then proceeding with more rigorous work through the summer of 2023.
By breaking the originally proposed bond effectively in half, it means the school department had to prioritize the most necessary needs, and save for later the things like exterior pavement repairs and improving energy capabilities of windows.
Broken down by school, the improvements include approximately $10.2 million at Pilgrim, $5.2 million at Toll Gate, $1.2 million at Vets and $998K at Winman. Elementary school improvements range in amount between $650K at Park School and $2.6 million at Lippitt.
School finance director Anthony Ferrucci broke down the biggest projects that will occur during the summers of 2019-2023, which include three HVAC systems (Toll Gate, Lippitt and half of Pilgrim’s system in 2020 and the other half of Pilgrim in 2021); 11 roofs (with Toll Gate the only one occurring in 2019); 18 ADA compliance projects (John Brown Francis happening this summer to prepare it for its Sept. 2018 transition to a Pre-K school); and outfitting 14 playgrounds to be ADA-compliant.
The ADA playgrounds is the only significant change from the original plan, as they were moved upwards in priority to be addressed. These improvements will cost approximately $2.1 million.
“Not only is it a legal liability, it’s the right thing to do,” Thornton said of the playground improvements. “All kids should be able to access playgrounds and this is long overdue.”
The work that is to be conducted this summer must be cautiously approached and must be achievable without the use of outside architects and engineering firms, as the school department will not know whether or not they will be receiving bond funding until November’s mid-term elections, when the bond initiative will appear on the ballot for voters to approve or shoot down.
However, the school department will know by this March whether or not they have been approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for reimbursement. This will enable them to plan the summer 2018 work – which is in total projected to cost around $200K – to be budgeted through the capital reserve plan when they prepare their FY19 budget this summer.
Ferrucci said that a majority of the $5.2 million in capital reserve plan money would go towards replacing electrical components district-wide. He stressed that they would be careful to plan ahead when performing the electrical work to ensure that they can seamlessly integrate new HVAC systems that will eventually have to be installed at 11 other schools.
“We’ll be cognizant of the potential impact of the future mechanicals going in when we create the design,” he said. I can’t afford to do the whole thing, but we’ll stage it so that it will be adaptable.”
The 54-page report outlines every repair, down to the dollar, which is planned as part of the $40 million bond. It is broken down by year, major projects and on a school-by-school, year-by-year basis. Ferrucci said that they will be posting each project on the school department’s website as it begins, as it progresses and the total dollar amount it costed when it has finished.
Ferrucci encouraged people to show up to the Feb. 13 meeting to hear the breakdown. If the school committee approves the plan, the next step will be to wait on RIDE for their selection of projects to receive reimbursement in March.