To the Editor:
“Council Delays Vote on Vets Funds,” published on March 9, 2017, discusses the ongoing and valid concerns raised by both members of the City Council and the public in regards to the allocation of school bond funds for maintenance and upgrades of our schools. The City Council and School Committee must act carefully before spending millions of taxpayer dollars. Our schools are in desperate need of repairs, as detailed in the SMMA study. My fellow councilors’ words speak for themselves: we are deeply concerned with the schools but will not vote on millions of dollars of spending without asking questions and getting the answers we need.
I support allowing the voters to consider a large bond that would address the most urgent priorities. However, “haste makes waste,” and our schools cannot afford more waste! Thank you to Council President Solomon for leading us in our thorough review of this multi-million dollar question.
In Ward 2, decisions were made to close Rhodes ES just a couple of years after an expansion was completed, and Aldrich JHS was closed after an expansion about ten years ago. Why put millions of dollars into old school buildings only to turn around and shut them down?
I commend Dean Johnson for raising the idea of “resetting the clock on maintenance” by replacing certain aging buildings. Our newest schools are over 40 years old; the average is 60 years old; some were built before World War II. The costs of HVAC, electrical, and plumbing repairs/upgrades, ADA compliance, asbestos removal, etc. add up fast. A study of the replacing the buildings in greatest disrepair may lead to millions of dollars in long-term savings. At the same time, creating state-of-the-art schools for children that will make Warwick a destination for young families once again.
In 2015, the School Committee’s consultants, SMMA, estimated that more than $240 million is needed for repair and maintenance of Warwick’s school buildings. Does it make sense to put millions of dollars into each and every one of two dozen structures for repair and maintenance, or, is it more cost-effective in the long-term to rebuild some of the oldest schools?
I look forward to continuing the discussion. It is an honor to be able to represent the people of Warwick, and, along with my fellow Council members, ask the tough questions to be certain that taxpayer money will be spent wisely. In particular, I applaud Councilman Corley’s questions about why new athletic fields are prioritized over more urgent needs, and, Councilman Ladouceur using his background in finance and construction to dig into the numbers. The City Council will continue to hear the School Committee’s request at its meeting on Monday, March 20, 2017. All are welcome to attend.