Oakland Beach School to operate from Gorton next year

Posted 6/22/23

Oakland Beach School is moving out of Oakland Beach next year.

For the 2023-24 academic year, the school  will be housed at the former Gorton Ju8nior High School which also serves as school …

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Oakland Beach School to operate from Gorton next year


Oakland Beach School is moving out of Oakland Beach next year.

For the 2023-24 academic year, the school  will be housed at the former Gorton Ju8nior High School which also serves as school department administrative offices.

 The move is necessitated by major renovations to the elementary school.

Steve Gothberg, Director of Capital and Construction Projects, said that the HVAC system at Oakland Beach was “not going to make it through another winter without major problems and the potential for failure,” so immediate intervention was necessary.

“When we determined that the system wasn’t going to make it, we had to scramble because we can’t have a school and have the kids in it with no heat,” Gothberg said. “You can’t take the chance that you put the kids in and hope that the system won’t fail. You have to plan ahead.”

The projected budget for Oakland Beach renovations is estimated to be $7 million. Gothberg said that once they determine the price of the HVAC system, the department will consider other renovations depending on available funding. Gothberg said they plan to add new windows and electrical upgrades which are funded through separate budget lines.

Chairman of the Warwick School Committee David Testa agreed that the committee “didn’t want to take the chance” with the system failing while kids were in the school. When the School Committee realized that they would not be able to fund all of the proposed heating projects they intended to from the $56 million bond approved by voters in 2020, they voted on a “pecking order” at their April 25 meeting, prioritizing systems from worst to least worst. Testa said the decision was made to “accelerate the time frame” of the Oakland Beach project because of its likelihood of failure.

At the June meeting, the committee officially approved the expenditure and to temporarily move Oakland Beach to Gorton.

Gothberg explained that the price of the proposed project has skyrocketed in recent years. He said that in the initial 2019 proposal, he estimated it would cost $42 per square foot, totaling $2.8 million for Oakland Beach’s 66,000 square feet. Now, the costs have escalated, with the same repairs projected to cost between $78 and $144 per square foot, “driving the budget way up.”

“Everything we’re seeing in electrical switchgear, HVAC equipment and even just plain old building materials, the costs have gone out of sight,” Gothberg said.

Gothberg said that with the combination of an estimated three month design process and a month-long bidding process, construction  should by October at the latest, putting the completion date either in May or June 2024.

According to Principal Paul Heatherton, there will be other enhancements to the school in addition to the new HVAC system including an updated playground, an innovation maker space classroom and new outdoor learning classrooms— the funding for which comes from different grants and sources.

“If all goes well, the students should only be here for a year,” Gothberg said.

Patricia Cousineau, Director of Elementary Education, said that academically, there will be no loss or missed instruction with the move.

“It’ll just be a change of address, not a change of instruction,” Cousineau said. “Their entire school family gets to stay together so they will all be under one roof which we were happy that we could do. We just think it’s really good for the kids and the relationships.”

Heatherton said “although we will miss our home on Oakland Beach Avenue, I am happy that the district is being proactive.” He added that the community has been “extremely understanding” about the move.

“Our students are a little excited about going to learn in a new space,” Heatherton said.

This isn’t the first instance in which a school has taken up residency at Gorton. This past academic year, Sherman Elementary students learned on the second floor of the Gorton. When mold forced closure of Sherman School, the decision was made to not only remediate the mold problem but accelerate planned school renovations.

Gothberg said renovations including a new HVAC system, new flooring, new ceilings and new doors will be completed by the end of June, so Sherman students can expect to be back in their building next school year.

“Because we did Sherman when we had the mold problem, we saw that we could do it successfully,” Gothberg added.

Testa agrees that Sherman’s experience sets a blueprint for Oakland Beach. He even noticed that some parents from Sherman were providing advice to parents from Oakland Beach via community Facebook groups. Cousineau added that the administration hosted walkthroughs with Oakland Beach teachers and administration while Sherman was still in the space, so they could see the learning potential.

“People are understanding,” Testa said. “Having already been through this with Sherman, social media kind of ramped up a little bit with people asking ‘hey, what was your experience when your child was moved?’ From what I saw, it was all positive.”

According to Cousineau, Oakland Beach’s student population is between 1.3 and 1.5 times larger than Sherman’s, so the administration has to convert four to five spaces on the lower level into classrooms. Gothberg said they have to clean them up and outfit them with wi-fi and computers. Cousineau added that this process is “a lot of work.”

“By the time the Oakland Beach teachers see it, it will be shiny and beautiful and ready for occupancy,” Cousineau said.

Cousineau said the Oakland Beach teachers have already started preparing to move everything including “every last paper clip” into the new building. While their furniture and learning materials will arrive to the new building over the summer, teachers will not start setting up their new classrooms until August 1. Cousineau said that they plan to have a meet and greet with families once things are fully settled.

“For me, it’s about keeping the Oakland Beach family together and just welcoming their families the same way we did with Sherman,” Cousineau said. “It worked out really well. I could foresee that this is a very safe, happy and clean environment. When Oakland Beach moves out, we might have another school move in. We might keep this ball rolling, so we can repair all of our buildings to bring them up to 21st century learning standards.”

Oakland, Gorton, school