Work to prepare middle schools begins

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Although the Warwick School Department can’t yet be sure about how it will balance its budget due to a sizable gap between their needs and what they have been allocated by the City Council, it isn’t stopping work from being done to ensure students are able to integrate into their new schools come this September.

For the first time in Warwick this fall, students from the 6th grade will join 7th and 8th graders in both Warwick Veterans and Winman in what will be a true middle school model. Administrators and school committee members have spoken at length about how they believe the middle school model will benefit students educationally and socially as opposed to keeping 6th graders in elementary schools.

Now, work to accommodate the nearly 400 additional students that will be attending Warwick Vets is currently underway, with Maintenance Director Steve Gothberg overseeing a can-do hodgepodge crew of in-house maintenance personnel – composed of auto mechanics from his department and even teaching assistants looking to help out with what they can – as they realign lockers and prepare new learning spaces for students.

Despite being the day before Independence Day, about a dozen men and women were buzzing around Vets on Tuesday, with many of them working to relocate lockers to accommodate the educational plan of Vets principal David Tober prior to summer school classes beginning today.

“With budget restraints, we’re unable to hire vendors to do this work so my guys have pitched in like you can’t believe,” Gothberg said while presenting the work underway and accomplished at Vets.

Work was being done on school’s annex, which is a small block of additional classroom spaces located in a building separate from the main school. Gothberg and his crew were in the process of fencing in a walkway area, which was also paved by the city, so that students can safely travel from the main building to the annex for classes. Gothberg said that the walkway would also be enclosed with a rooftop awning, which will be constructed later this summer.

The biggest transformations have already been mostly finished. On the ground floor, what was formerly an auto maintenance garage stacked with debris and cluttered by a large car lift has been completely gutted and re-painted into a pristine space for an arts classroom. Two pottery kilns currently sit in a walled-in area in a corner of the room. The car lift has been removed as well.

Upstairs in the C Wing, a classroom that had long been locked from entry and contained a decades-old science laboratory has also been totally removed and the room restored and is now ready to be fitted with new counter tops complete with sinks and electrical hookups to enable the teaching of science curriculum in the room for the first time in a long time.

Another room, which had been used as a small auditorium space and connected to the cafeteria, will be opened up and be made into additional cafeteria space for the incoming 6th graders.

Elsewhere, the room that used to contain two ancient boilers – which until this past year were the only method of heating the school – has been completely cleaned out, with the gigantic, immensely heavy boilers being taken out piece-by-piece and all the asbestos-laden pipes now abated. A brand new HVAC system now heats and cools the building, work that was completed last summer.

To accommodate six or seven additional buses needed to ferry students to Vets, Gothberg said work is being done to patch and seal the pavement in front of the school and there will be work done on the front lawn to accommodate the increased traffic.

At Winman, work to repair the crumbling front concrete staircase is currently out for bid and Gothberg said he is hopefully to submit a bid for school committee approval by their meeting on July 10.

It is during that meeting that Superintendent Philip Thornton will present his updated budget to the school committee and the public. According to Finance Director Anthony Ferrucci, Thornton will not be adjusting the bottom line of the budget. Ferrucci said the work already approved and moving forward this summer for consolidation amounts to about $219,000.

It is unclear what the school committee and administration’s plans are regarding balancing their budget, as they face a significant multi-million shortfall and are required by law to pass a balanced budget. They are continuing the process to conduct an operational and fiscal audit of the schools to prepare for a Caruolo Action against the city – where they would file a lawsuit claiming they cannot deliver an educational plan in line with state standards using the money they have received from the city.

Despite these ongoing hurdles, Gothberg couldn’t say enough about his crew, many of whom were smiling as they sweated hauling fencing outdoors or struggled to move lockers from one place to another. The team illustrated how an all-hands-on-deck approach can make a huge difference, even when money is particularly tight.

“I can’t say enough about the guys who work in my department,” Gothberg said on Tuesday. “You ask them to do something and they go ahead and get it done.”

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