It was built as a high school, transitioned into a junior high school and then closed when Warwick secondary schools were consolidated a year ago. Now Aldrich could reopen as a school, depending on whether the city accepts the bid of the International Charter School to buy the property for $1.9 million.
But classrooms and teachers don’t appear to be in the future for the adjoining Christopher Rhodes Elementary School that closed in 2008 and, with the exception of a hiatus when used by the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, has sat vacant. The future of that property could be an extension of the adjoining single-family residential neighborhood or a condominium development.
Both schools were the subjects of bids opened Friday. Each of the properties received only one bid, which was a disappointment to Richard Crenca, principal planner. He had hoped for a greater level of interest with perhaps multiple proposals for the two parcels and possibly a plan for the combination of the two. Nonetheless, Crenca feels both offers are solid and should be seriously considered.
Asked about the bids on Tuesday, Mayor Scott Avedisian felt the same way. He said he plans to meet Monday with members of the administration to review the offers. He reminded that it is his plan to reduce the city’s debt by whatever funds are received for the properties. Likewise, Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix is encouraged by what he’s heard, although he is reserving judgment until he’s had the chance to thoroughly review the proposals.
“My number one concern,” Rix said, “is that any new development conforms with the comprehensive plan. No big box stores, no way.”
Retail is not part of the picture.
Warwick resident and developer Hugh A. Fisher submitted a bid of $550,000 for Rhodes School. Fisher, who has built more than 1,400 homes in Warwick and North Kingstown in the past four decades, proposes one of two alternatives for the school property – 27 single-family homes or 50 condominium units. Fisher also proposes that he raze the former school, which includes asbestos removal and the removal of oil tanks and asphalt, in which case that cost would be deducted from the $550,000, or that the city do it and provide him a clean piece of property. A bid from Lake View Farms to do the work accompanied Fisher’s proposal. The cost was projected at $418,000.
Fisher also looked at what redevelopment of the property could yield the city in tax revenues. The 27 single-family homes, he estimated, would bring in $162,000 in taxes. A condo development he put at $250,000. Given the time to clean up the Rhodes property and obtain permits, Fisher estimates the project could be completed in two years.
Reached Wednesday, Fisher said if his bid is selected he looks forward to meeting with community representatives to determine which of his two proposals is the best fit for the neighborhood. He described the condo proposal as a single floor development targeted at an aging population looking to downsize while remaining in Warwick.
While the International Charter School, based in Pawtucket, wouldn’t be subject to taxes, the school’s bid includes a $70,000 per year payment in lieu of taxes to the city.
“We want to make sure we’re providing a benefit to the City of Warwick,” explained school director Julie Nora on Wednesday. She said while the school has adequate space where it is now located in Pawtucket, it doesn’t have the opportunity to expand and there are no outdoor fields like those at Aldrich. She believes the ICS proposal is a win for the school as it will be able to grow, and a win for Warwick, too, since it would preserve a historic building and comply with the city’s comprehensive plan.
The ICS vision for Aldrich is extensive, as spelled out in a book-sized document that gets down to specific classrooms. Proposed are $6.9 million in mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades, along with new windows, floors, ceilings, bathrooms, kitchen equipment and lockers. There would also be improvements to playing fields as well as a playground and a new entrance to the school at the Post Road traffic signal to Walmart and the elimination of the Relph Street access.
Nora said the school has the funds to make the purchase of Aldrich but would need to conduct fundraising in order to complete the proposed upgrades. He said she was “pleasantly surprised” to learn that ICS was the only bidder for the property.
ICS is a state charter school and, hence, open to students from across the state. As those seeking to attend exceed the available slots, acceptance is based on a lottery. Tuition is paid by state and municipal funds.
A key to the plan, and one the city was pressing, is the preservation of the Aldrich School façade with its columns, peaked roof and entrance stairway. Should it be accepted, under the ICS proposal the school would have an enrollment of 465 K-5 students when it opens in 2019, which would expand to a maximum of 800 K-8 students over the next eight years. Aldrich would enable ICS to provide a middle school option that it currently can’t offer because of space limitations.
While international is in the name of the school, enrollment is from 15 Rhode Island communities with the greatest population coming from Pawtucket, Providence and Central Falls. ICS was founded in 2001 by a group looking to bring together students from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds to create an environment where they could learn from each other’s languages, celebrate diverse cultures and excel academically. The school offers a dual language education and teaches all students in two languages, with half the instruction in English and half in Spanish or Portuguese.
In its proposal, ICS reasons that more and more families are looking for their children to be exposed to a range of language and cultural backgrounds.
“High quality educational models that provide diverse student populations with the flexibility to move between languages and cultural paradigms, problem-solving skills, and empathy are what we are all going to need in a globally connected world,” reads the proposal.