Schools need to use updated standards when calculating capacity
To the Editor:
I am writing to clarify the Warwick school capacity information presented in Thursday’s Beacon. The RIDE [Rhode Island Department of Education] Public Schoolhouse Assessment was written to provide an overall snapshot of the state’s public education facilities. It was based on self-reported information from local districts, but also provided some industry standards and discrepancies in the reporting (most notably the capacity and facility condition reporting by local districts).
Given the tremendous focus on the capacity of Warwick Schools in creating a long-term facilities plan, I feel it is critical to review the substantial difference in the Warwick School Department’s capacity analysis/reporting and the industry capacity standards for contemporary educational programs as reported in the RIDE report.
Based on my discussions with school administration officials, the capacities they use in facility planning are a simple calculation of number of classrooms multiplied by the number of maximum students per class. However, 21st century guidelines for facility planning examine the entire building and its ability to provide the adequate space for all educational programming through a gross square footage per student calculation. When recalculating the information provided in the RIDE report based on these standards, a very different scenario than the one Warwick administration reports is revealed.
Without going into each school (I will be forwarding the detailed analysis by school to Long Term Planning Committee members), industry standards show that Warwick schools are 341 over capacity while the Warwick school officials report that the schools are 6,481 under capacity. This substantial difference in numbers directly relates to the Warwick School Department continuing to use educational capacity standards from decades ago while the rest of the country is using modern day calculations of capacity based on current educational needs. While it may not be logistically or financially feasible at this time to meet the current educational space standards, the Long Term Planning Committee should, at a minimum, examine modern standards in education and not rely on outdated capacity calculations when planning for the future of our school facilities.
The entire facility (gross square footage and functional layout) needs to be analyzed according to present and future educational programming and a realistic, thoughtful compromise between cost and benefit should be presented to the School Committee so that they are able to make informed decisions. Our children and educators deserve adequate and functional space in their schools and continuing to close schools without a discussion and analysis of 21st century standards is not acceptable. RIDE recommends that school districts “conduct more detailed, building-specific evaluations to more accurately gauge facility conditions and programmatic utilization for use in educational facility planning” and I hope that the Long Term Facility Planning Committee will follow this recommendation and utilize the vast planning resources available and described in this report as their guide to create a credible long-range facilities plan, not just a recommendation to close schools.
As evidenced by the testimony regarding the closure of Gorton School, the public expects and will not support any decisions that are not based on current, comprehensive planning.