School Superintendent Lynn Dambruch and Assistant Superintendent William McCaffrey were still on Cloud Nine Tuesday morning following city council approval to issue bonds for new high schools Monday …
School Superintendent Lynn Dambruch and Assistant Superintendent William McCaffrey were still on Cloud Nine Tuesday morning following city council approval to issue bonds for new high schools Monday night when they shared the news Park Elementary School has been selected one of the state’s three Blue Ribbon schools. It was the icing to the long, drawn out six-month effort to have the council move ahead with new schools to replace Toll Gate and Pilgrim.
Before leaving administrative offices to deliver the news to the Park principal and faculty and notifying parents, the two administrators reveled in the council’s 8-1 vote to issue $350 million in bond funding.
“This is an historic moment for thecity. It is the largest investment in education. We’re going to build for the future,” said McCaffrey. Indeed, the $350 million school bond approved by nearly 60 percent of those casting ballots is the largest in the city’s history.
Across town barely 14 hours after the council vote, Mayor Frank Picozzi opened a manila folder with the resolution calling for distribution of the funds. Picozzi has every intention of signing the document, pointing out that there is a lot of work to be done before any of the bond money becomes available. Issues to be considered include the term of the bond – 20, 25 or 30 years– and the scheduling of short term bonds to finance stages of the project. He said he would be meeting the city’s bond counsel, City Finance Director Peder Schaefer and administrative staff to schedule payments so taxpayers aren’t “pushed off the cliff.”
Picozzi said he will work with other mayors and municipal leaders in an effort to get the state Department of Education to increase its pay as you go program. According to Steve Gothberg, Director of School Construction and Capital projects, Warwick would receive $22.5 million in pay as you go funds. Payments are based on the city’s base 35 percent rate of reimbursement and paid directly to vendors as work is completed. Later, the city would receive an additional 20 percent to achieve the full rate of 55 percent reimbursement. The pay as you go program reduces the dependence on short term bonds and interest costs impacting taxes.
Taxes and the uncertainties of inflation and whether the schools could be built for $350 million were key concerns to proceeding with the schools at this time. At Monday’s five- hour meeting strong arguments were made to wait and see what happens; that given the cost of materials and in view of current school construction projects that have run over budget; the schools can’t be built for $350 million and that higher taxes will drive people out of the city.
Those pressing for the new schools reasoned the city won’t get a second chance at reimbursement at 55 percent and that waiting will only result in higher costs.
McCaffrey is confident the Warwick team is ready to get to work and that the job can be done on budget and on time.
Dambruch expressed her appreciation in voter support of the bond how state legislators worked to increase funding and extend deadlines for the project and the City Council for its approval to borrow the funds. McCaffrey said local officials have come together “to row the boat in the same direction.”
Just how long might it take to get a shovel in the ground? The best guess is about a year.
The first step is to establish a stream of funding so that building plans can be drawn.
“We need the money pretty quick,” said Gothberg estimating that could take about five weeks. He believes it would take another 10 months to finalize drawings for a bid package. Along the way, the plans are subject to RIDE review with the first question being “how are we going to build this and stay in budget?”
As this is such a large project that could limit the pool of potential contractors bidding, Gothberg said the plan is to seek independent bids for the two schools. He said that doesn’t preclude contractors bidding both schools, he said.
“I’m thankful and very pleased, very grateful for (the council) pushing forward and putting kids in (new) schools and great things for Warwick,” he said.
The icing on the department’s good news was Tuesday’s announcement that Park School has been named one of three Blue Ribbon schools in the state by the US Department of Education. Park was recognized as an exemplary achievement gap closing school.
“This award acknowledges the highest performing schools across the country,” Dambruch writes in an announcement to the school community. “I would like to thank the teachers, staff, parents, students and administrators for their exceptional commitment to teaching and learning and for embracing Warwick School Department’s ‘Vision of a Graduate.’"
According to a release from the Rhode Island Department of Education, the National Blue Ribbon School award affirms and validates the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in striving for – and attaining – exemplary achievement. National Blue Ribbon Schools serve as models of effective school practices for state and district educators and other schools throughout the nation. A National Blue Ribbon School flag gracing a school’s entryway or on a flagpole is a widely recognized symbol of exemplary teaching and learning. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes all schools in one of two performance categories exemplary high-performing and exemplary achievement gap-closing schools, based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates.