Thornton builds case for capital school bond
City Council members invited on school tours outlining deficiencies
Usually, school administrators go out of their way to show off what is best in school.
Starting Wednesday, Aug. 23, however, and continuing every Wednesday until Nov. 8, the department will showcase what needs to be done in each of the city’s schools, starting with Cedar Hill School. The mayor and the City Council have been invited to take the tours, as the administration and School Committee build a case for a capital school bond issue for the November 2018 ballot.
“I hope there’s a better understanding [of the renovations and upgrades required of schools],” Superintendent Philip Thornton said Friday.
The list, which includes heating systems, roofs, windows, doors, electrical systems and much more, is extensive and has been ranked by priority.
Earlier this year, starting with a list of Warwick school building deficiencies identified by the Rhode Island Department of Education totaling an estimated $196 million, the school department identified $85 million projects to be done over the next five years. The plan was to gain City Council approval of an $85 million bond that would then require General Assembly approval to appear on a special election ballot this November.
Although vetted by a building committee comprised of city and school officials – Ed Ladouceur was chosen to represent the City Council but resigned from the panel on grounds there was a preconceived outcome to the study – the plan never reached a vote of the Council Finance Committee. Ladouceur, who chairs the committee, argued the committee should have the benefit of the state study that was to have been released in May.
Now Ladouceur wants to show Council members and state legislators the extent of the work that needs to be done. He is also looking for feedback on whether the officials feel the work is not properly prioritized, doesn’t need to be addressed or is less than what needs to happen.
There is also concern over lining up council, legislative and, eventually, voter approvals so Warwick schools get its share of state funds should they become available.
Is the administration still targeting an $85 million bond issue?
“To us, it is still $85 million,” said Thornton. “We would love to do more.” Thornton is concerned to what level the city is prepared to take on additional debt and whether voters would approve an even larger bond.
Yet when the $85 million bond was proposed there was sentiment that the department should be looking at a new super middle school rather than pouring money into older buildings. The estimated cost of such a school was $100 million or more.
“That’s one building, what about the other 18?” asks Thornton.
In addition, Thornton believes what the department has been able to achieve at Veterans Junior High School, where the department is ahead of schedule on installing new heating and adding an air exchange system, lighting and ceiling tiles, is illustrative of what renovations can do.
“The $8.6 million spent on Vets has added decades on that building,” he said.
Elected officials will be invited to tour Vets to view the work done. Steve Gothberg, director of school buildings and grounds, is hopeful HVAC work on the school will be finished late this year rather than next year. He also aims to have the end of the school working off a septic system tied into city sewers this year.
“I don’t want to pay any more pumping charges,” he said.
Work is likewise progressing on air conditioning of Toll Gate rooms, including the library.
“To do it well we really need a plan and a bond,” Thornton said of school building upgrades.
“You have to act, but you can’t fix things up without a capital budget,” he said.
Mayor Scott Avedisian, who plans to attend all but two of the school tours, favors the plan to show council members the work that needs to be done. He thought the tours would also be beneficial for state legislators who will be asked to vote on enabling legislation should a bond gain council approval.
The calendar of tours is as follows: Aug. 23 Cedar Hill at 3 p.m.; Scott at 4 p.m.; Aug. 30 Warwick Neck, 3 p.m., Sherman, 4 p.m.; Sept. 6, Pilgrim, 3 p.m.; Sept. 13, Hoxsie, 3 p.m., Holden, 4 p.m.; Sept. 20, Toll Gate, 3 p.m., Career Center 4 p.m.; Oct. 4, Vets, 4 p.m.; Oct. 11, Robertson, 3 p.m., Greenwood, 4 p.m.; Oct. 18, Park, 3 p.m., Wickes, 4 p.m.; Oct. 25, Francis, 3:30 p.m., Holliman 4:30 p.m.; Nov. 1, Winman 3 p.m., Drum Rock 4 p.m.; Nov. 8, Oakland Beach, 3 p.m. and Lippitt, 4 p.m.