Report reveals $190 million in school deficiencies

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School administrators are hopeful that securing an $85 million bond to address some of the district’s most glaring needs is more likely now that the statewide report by Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. has been released, providing a third party, impartial assessment that approximately $190 million-worth of work is needed to bring Warwick’s public schools into the modern era of safety and efficiency.

“It is validating to hear that they do concur that we need attention to the schools. It’s been decades of deferred maintenance and it really is time to have some action,” said Superintendent Philip Thornton. “Last year the council wanted to see the final report from Jacobs before they acted…They really wanted to see validation, and now we have validation.”

Jacobs assessed each school in each district based on five priorities of needs, with Priority 1 being the “Mission Critical Concerns” that include the direst issues that need to be addressed to ensure the school can remain operating in a safe, code-compliant manner, such as replacing a fire alarm system.

In Warwick, about 70 percent of the deficiencies were defined by Jacobs as either Priority 3 (short-term conditions) issues such as site improvements and plumbing deficiencies, or Priority 4 (long-term requirements) issues such as paint finishing, removal of old equipment and installation of ancillary items such as cabinets.

While Thornton and Finance Director Tony Ferrucci said that Jacobs’ financial estimate for how much the district needs to reinvigorate the schools was close to their own assessment, the two sides have differing opinions on what needs constitute what level priority.

“Primarily I think we agree on most areas,” said Ferrucci. “We’re looking at things like [required] power for instructional purposes. They have that as a lower level of priority. We also put more of a priority on the building envelope – like replacing windows and doors where there’s cold air that penetrates the building, and putting up new windows, newer doors, eliminating the drafts and looking to reduce operational costs. That drove our prioritization.”

Ferrucci said that the Jacobs report validated the need to renovate the auditorium at Pilgrim, which it identified as a Priority 3 need. Simultaneously, Ferrucci said that project also illustrated how the Jacobs Report may come to cost estimates that don’t fully align with what Warwick actually winds up paying.

“Jacobs said that was a $1.1 million project and we did it for $600,000,” he said. “I look at the Jacobs Report as a separate, independent validation of what we’re doing more than anything.”

Ferrucci also made the disclaimer that the projected deficiencies do not include any recent updates the school department has made to its buildings – like the $8.6 million HVAC and electrical improvements made at Vets and the fire alarm system replacement at Holliman Elementary – because the engineers for Jacobs visited the schools around March of 2016. Two summers of renovation work has passed since then.

“We will be filing updates as to what’s been accomplished and they’re supposed to then recalculate and generate the numbers based on our impact on our buildings,” Ferrucci said.

“I think they’re more than willing to meet and correct things,” concurred Thornton. “It’s a working document.”

One statistic from the report that seemed alarming was the fact that, of the 724 total instructional spaces in Warwick, only 23.2 percent met or exceeded the new space size standards set by the state.

Thornton explained that this standard is known as an “aspirational standard” that doesn’t take into account the fact that older buildings may not have been built with dedicated spaces for auditoriums, cafeterias, music and art rooms and gymnasiums – which is a requirement for new school construction.

“Buildings built back in the day may have had a cafetorium,” Thornton said. “And now you have not met the standard. So when you apply a 2017 aspirational standard to an old building, it looks like you’re overpopulating the building when you’re really not.” Thornton said that if the aspirational standards were enforced, Norwood Elementary – which has 280 students – would only be allowed to have 130 students.

Now it will remain to be seen whether or not the Warwick City Council – which wanted to see the results of the Jacobs Report prior to approving the bond request – will approve the request this time around. Should that happen, it is too late for the issue to appear on the upcoming November ballot, and would have to wait until November of 2018.

On top of the new report, councilors have had extended opportunities to view the deficiencies and areas of need within the schools for many weeks now, as Thornton has been leading tours through the buildings to highlight the need for improvements across the district. Tours are scheduled on Wednesday. This week they will be at Wyman (3:30), Norwood (4:15) and Francis Elementary Schools (5:00). Tours of Vets and Lippitt will be held the following Wednesday at 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. respectively.

“We want the information to get out,” he said, adding that councilors and legislators can ask for private tours whenever they’d like. “People can make their own judgments on what they see.”

Ferrucci said that, between an earlier assessment from Symmes Maini & McKee Associates that estimated a need for about $220 million to fix the district schools and with the Jacobs Report now completed, the district has a clear and objective picture of what needs to be accomplished, which is the first step in trying to fix the problems that need addressed.

“We all concur that we’re only doing about half of what the district needs and that’s coming in at 85 to 90 million dollars,” he said. “So I think the macro level is, yeah, they’re all synchronized to the level of need that the community is facing here.”

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CrickeeRaven

A careful reading of this article shows that the district has already completed many renovation projects, and that the standards used do not take into account the age of Warwick's school buildings.

The $190 million estimate is one opinion from an engineering firm, using standards that were not in place when the buildings were constructed. Supt. Thornton suggests that this is the "validation" that the city council is seeking; I find it difficult to believe that the council will accept this inflated and unrealistic projection of renovation costs and support a bond referendum based on it.

Tuesday, September 26
Thecaptain

As a professional in the industry of building inspection, and having been involved as the structural inspector of record on dozens of new school projects (all in MA) , there is one formula that is used in determining the construction of a school. Number of students X 200 sq ft per student, X $350 per sq ft. Every project in MA has come in under budget. Every community is building new state of the art schools.

Yet in Warwick, the equation is a bit different. It goes like this - increase your liabilities by giving more raises and benefits to substandard teachers, hire more teachers even when enrollment is dramatically decreased, placate to the unions to preserve votes, continue to offer substandard education to the taxpayers.

There seems to be a bit of a difference in philosophy now doesn't there?

Tuesday, September 26
moreofthesame

Once again, more pleasantries from the "Captain". Everyone is an idiot or substandard or lacking in some other way. "Captain" - I understand that it must be hard to be humble when you're so great...

FYI....Teachers are NOT being given more benefits. In fact, Warwick teachers have made concessions pertaining to benefits. Here are a couple:

1. They agreed to contribute to their healthcare several years ago.

2. Starting this year February school vacation has been eliminated.

"Captain" - you have a habit of lumping all of the teachers in to the category of being greedy. It seems that you think that they are all gaming the system.

What should someone in the private sector be paid for their experience and academic credentials? That is a Masters Degree and more than 25 years of experience. Warwick teachers are paid comparatively to Warwick Police and Firemen. However, they don't get overtime. Most teachers have to do a significant amount of work at home that they are not compensated for.

As in any profession there are always going to be people that are substandard performers. However, that is usually the exception rather than the rule.

Please, go find a another soapbox to stand on. It's too bad that you don't have better people skills. I do agree with you on many points that you make. However, your presentation needs a lot of work if you want to build consensus. Stop thinking the worst of people all the time.....

Wednesday, September 27
JohnStark

Captain,

While I appreciate the cost formula in MA, as well as the pathological formula here in Warwick, both estimates include only inputs while largely ignoring outcomes, both desired and realized. Not surprising, given that academic outcomes are largely minimized (or glossed over) in the city. A quick glance at Tollgate's mission statement proudly proclaims the school's "..supportive environment" amidst an "...ever changing society" but not a word about Excellence, Achievement, or Merit. Given that fewer than 1 in 4 TG students is able to demonstrate proficiency in Math, I guess it's reassuring that they feel "safe" in the process. And this is not something $190M will not fix.

Wednesday, September 27
richardcorrente

We know

that the School Committee receives $160,000,000 a year of taxpayers money... fact.

that the School Committee has received OVER A BILLION DOLLARS since 2009... fact.

that the School Committee is supposed to maintain the schools... fact.

that with all that taxpayer-money spent, the schools are in deplorable condition... fact.

that the School Committee had TOTAL control over how, over-a-BILLION-DOLLARS was spent... fact.

that they want the taxpayers to give them $84,000,000 MORE!! with no guarantee as to how it will be spent. None!

The question is this:

How can any taxpayer believe that they will spend this $84,000,000 any better? Can the taxpayers believe that the School Committee has suddenly become "financially responsible"??

They can't.

This request should be immediately voted down by any intelligent taxpayer.

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Wednesday, September 27
CrickeeRaven

"We know"

that the fake "mayor" lost an election last year

that he persists in attacking the school committee for being fiscally irresponsible when he has lost a home to tax sale, been delinquent on his car taxes, and wasted $40,000 on that failed campaign

that he will continue to humiliate himself with his comments.

Wednesday, September 27
moreofthesame

John Stark,

"Given that fewer than 1 in 4 TG students is able to demonstrate proficiency in Math, I guess it's reassuring that they feel "safe" in the process. And this is not something $190M will not fix."

Quite true. $190 million is not going to fix the philosophy of catering to the lowest functioning students to the detriment of higher functioning engaged students. There is too much emphasis on inclusion. This goes back at least 10 years. This and prior school administrations have forced this agenda on the schools. It is typical for classrooms to have special needs/ special education students, as well difficult behavior students and regular ed students in one classroom. While well intended and perhaps financially motivated, the results have been predicatively bad.

The classroom teachers have no say in where the students are placed. I.E.P's are ignored or worse yet not done. Teachers and students are constantly exposed to disruptions in the classroom. Many students and teachers are " are interested in Excellence, Achievement, or Merit." However, they are not being provided a learning environment where that can be pursued in a consistent manner.

While many of the schools do need maintenance. The real crux of the matter is getting the students into the appropriate classroom that is suited to their needs.

Thursday, September 28
Thecaptain

The fact of the matter is that the Warwick teachers are over paid. Your statement of "They agreed to contribute to their healthcare several years ago" is remarkable because for years they contributed virtually nothing in an economy when everyone else's healthcare benefits were being cut and the premiums were sky rocketing. Dollar for dollar, the city workers and the teachers have healthcare programs that few if any residents have.

I wish there was a math teacher commenting on this blog. Maybe he or she could formulate a ratio of the unfunded liabilities vs the cost borne to every student in the future that graduates with a 16% proficiency in math and 11% proficiency in science.

There comes a point where you have gone past the point of no return. Warwick's unfunded liabilities have reached that point long ago. Why are more parents electing to send their kids to private school? Its due to the education (or lack there of) in the Warwick school system.

There is complacency in every profession, but only in union protected professions can that complacency be traded off more more benefits and less obligations.

The statistical numbers show that the Warwick teachers are among the top 3% highest paid teachers in the country. Benefit package among the top 2% in the country, yet education rates in the bottom 4% in the country. Its not about the kids, its about salary and benefits.

Sunday, October 1