It’s a go for new high schools

Council approves issuance of $350 million bond after 5 hours of debate

Posted 9/21/23

At 10:11 p.m. on Sept. 18, the Warwick City Council voted 8-1 to release $350 million in bond funding to build two new high schools, slated to replace Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools.

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It’s a go for new high schools

Council approves issuance of $350 million bond after 5 hours of debate


At 10:11 p.m. on Sept. 18, the Warwick City Council voted 8-1 to release $350 million in bond funding to build two new high schools, slated to replace Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools.

The vote follows a public vote taken last November, where Warwick voters approved building the new schools with 58.8 percent of the vote.

While some councilmembers were apprehensive about the cost of building two new schools given the impact of inflation and impact on taxes, the main determination for them was the state of the current schools.

“You can’t say ‘Oh, I’m in credit card debt, therefore I’m not going to be able to fix the car. I can’t go to work,’” Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix said. “You can’t just skip out on essential functions here.”

Those comments were echoed by other council members that spoke, including Ward 1 Councilman William Foley who said that a brand-new addition at Davies Career and Technical High School changed the experience for his students when he was teaching there.

The sole dissenting voice, Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur, said in a statement prior to the meeting that he would vote against releasing the bond funding because of changes in plans for the new buildings since November.

“[The school department] changed the sales pitch, took away many of the frills, eliminated some of the things they were selling the public on because they were so important,” Ladouceur stated. “The taxpayers/voters deserve to revote on the real package and not the illusions.”

 “Fear and faith” were the words Ward 9 Councilman Vincent Gebhart, used to describe public comments both for and against issuing the bond funds. In the course of the 5-hour meeting, 21 members of the public spoke in favor of issuing the bond funds while 13 were opposed.

The crowd at the meeting was split about evenly, with slightly more members of the public speaking in favor of building the new schools than against the plan.

Many opposed to building the two schools at this time carried signs reading, “Don’t Know? Vote NO!” and argued that the ballot question passed by voters was a “bait-and-switch” due to changes in the design of the schools, including a reduction in square footage.

Resident Rob Cote argued that there were mathematical errors in the plans to build the new schools, citing experience he had in school construction as expertise, and that some information was inaccurate.

“I told [School Committee Chair Dave] Testa there’s no way you will be able to do this school for less than $382 million,” Cote said. “These schools will not come in on time or on budget.”

In particular, Cote questioned the accuracy of the cost per square foot in the school department’s projections of $662, compared to the cost per square foot to build Central Falls High School, which was $775.

Opponents also voiced concern about the impact of the new school on the city’s taxes, as well as on senior citizens living in the city.

“We cannot put Warwick taxpayers in such debt that they will have to vacate the city,” resident Michelle Komar said.

The majority of those questioning the plan suggested tabling the vote with some advocating a new public vote with the changes in design taken into account.

Those in favor of releasing the bond said that the argument about fiscal responsibility was moot, reasoning new schools needed to be built and the cost would only go up in the future.

“I don’t know how people don’t get that RIDE (the Rhode Island Department of Education) is going to reimburse 55 percent,” Toll Gate science teacher Michelle Landry said. “We are getting two schools for the price of one. That’s fiscal responsibility right there.”

According to Darlene Netcoh, president of the Warwick Teacher’s Union and a Toll Gate teacher, the reimbursement that Warwick ended up getting was higher than what was originally anticipated.

Also among those in favor were members of Toll Gate’s baseball team, that talked about traveling across the city to practice since there was no baseball diamond at the high school, and music and drama students at Pilgrim, who said that their school did not have the infrastructure that it needed to support a large-scale program.

Pilgrim physical education teacher Tom Flanders said that he was inspired by the baseball team, and his own experiences in coaching have convinced him that new athletic and academic facilities are necessary.

“We hear the comments when they come into our schools that we don’t have bleachers, we don’t have bathrooms, we don’t have a press box, we don’t have a concessions stand, whatever we’re missing,” Flanders said. “It infuriates me to see the embarrassment on my players’ faces, on my students’ faces.”

Other speakers in favor of building new schools said that new schools are necessary to attract new residents and businesses to the city. They pointed out Warwick students are enrolling in North Kingstown, Cranston West and Ponaganset High Schools. Some said that due to inflation, building new high schools would cost more in the future while not being any less of a necessity.

Ultimately, for many attendees and speakers at the City Council meeting, the bond vote was a very personal issue.

“I grew up alone- this city and these public schools probably saved my life, and it’s because of my wonderful public school teachers, administrators and the community,” Warwick Veterans Middle School music teacher George Landry said. “I can think of no better place that deserves two brand-new high schools. It is time.”

What comes next?

There are still steps to come before ground is broken on the two new schools. Construction is not likely to begin until over a year from now.

Monday night, though, was a moment of celebration for the Warwick School Committee and proponents of releasing the bonds, who had just cleared a major hurdle in a years long process to build new schools.

“When I first came to the School Committee over ten years ago, I said ‘If we build it, they will come’” School Committee member Karen Bachus said. “It will reinvigorate the city and make it better than it has been in forever.”

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2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • MikkeyDee

    Tollgate completed in 1972....can't be saved

    Pilgrim completed 1963..........can't be saved

    Vets completed 1954...............still going strong

    What could be the difference?

    Repubs in control in '54...dems in control in '63 and '72...

    2 dem schools falling apart...lets let the dems build 2 more...

    What a great idea...

    Monday, September 25, 2023 Report this

  • bill123

    Toll Gate and Pilgrim had similar recent enrollments (~1200, according to, but the assessor ( assigns a total building replacement cost for Toll Gate 4 times that of Pilgrim. I tried to compare this with graduation rates, but the eride site says “report not available”. The question would be, did a more expansive/costly facility actually help with education.

    Friday, September 29, 2023 Report this