While the school building committee will recommend that the School Committee favor an $85 million bond over a $118.8 million bond to address the aging condition of Warwick schools, the final debate may come down to the expenditure of $10,500 for 5,000 doorstops.
The doorstops have Ward 5 Councilman and finance chair Ed Ladouceur seeing red. He doesn’t buy reasoning that the doorstops will save the department money and points to the expenditure as why he doesn’t trust the School Committee with bond proceeds to finance capital improvements.
Ladouceur remembers the days he was in high school and doorstops were made in shop class from scraps of wood at no cost to the department.
Those wooden stops are just what the department has been using and reportedly are the cause of thousands of dollars spent annually to replace bent door hinges. The plastic stops are designed to give if forced, saving hinges, says Anthony Ferrucci, school finance director.
Ladouceur, who is a building contractor, finds the logic nonsensical. He thinks it takes more than an accidental pulling on a door to bend industrial strength hinges and that wooden stops are adequate.
It’s one reason why he says, “I don’t trust the School Committee with 85 million bucks.”
But it looks like the committee will move forward with the lesser of the two bonding proposals it presented to the council in an informational session last month.
In a memo sent to the committee Friday as part of the agenda for tonight’s School Committee meeting, Ferrucci outlines the work done by the building committee in establishing projects to be undertaken with the bond as well as reasoning for the $85 million bond. He said it is not necessary to add elementary school space at this time, as was suggested would be needed to meet the aspirational standards set by the Rhode Island Department of Education.
“It would be nice if it were affordable, but it appears to be unaffordable at this time. From my own personal prospective, the comments by a number of City Councilors that support that it is not financially feasible at this time were: Building a new elementary school building is not what would be supported. Maybe a high school but not elementary; the bond request is too large and that the school department should come back to the city council every couple of years and incrementally increase debt and that an existing elementary building should be replaced, not create additional new space.”
Ladouceur didn’t commit to a bond number.
“Eight-five million is a number to talk about,” he said. “We’ll see what shapes out.”
The voters would have the final say on a school bond, but for a referendum to appear on next Novembers ballot it must gain both the support of the City Council and the General Assembly. The School Committee had aimed to get an $85 million bond on the ballot of a special election this November. That plan didn’t get as far as a council vote as the finance committee withheld action pending release of the state Jacobs report on school buildings and what it would cost to upgrade them. The $118.8 million bond proposal is based on the Jacobs report.
Ladouceur charges the school administration of being negligent in keeping up with building maintenance and upgrades. Asked if that wasn’t the purpose of a $25 million bond approved by voters in 2009, Ladouceur charged the city administration for withholding issuance of the funds while taking on other debt by building a new fire station. [Ladouceur voted in favor of the fire station bond.]
As to where to turn now, Ladouceur said he favors a blend of new schools and renovations. He said he would like to see a state-of-the-art high school, although he is not suggesting a single high school for the city at this time.
What would that cost?
“The numbers I’m hearing are $110 million to $130 million,” he said.
Apart from the condition of buildings, Ladouceur observes that more people are sending their children to private schools or not moving to Warwick because of schools.
“Are we going to get a school department where we want to send our children?” he asked.
Maybe it has to do more with doorstops than education.