WARWICK, RI – Plans to build two new high schools have won City Council support, moving Warwick Schools’ efforts toward winning voter support for the projects totaling $350 million.
The City Council has approved the resolution supporting the Stage Two submittal to RIDE (Rhode Island Department of Education).
“We’ve been very, very transparent about what this project entailed,” said Committee Vice Chairman David Testa, also chairman of the Warwick Public Schools Building Committee. The total cost of construction for Toll Gate and Pilgrim High Schools is $350 million, he said.
“Nobody ever suggested that those schools were not an expensive proposition. It’s something that I truly believe in the bottom of my heart that the voters need to decide.”
“As a homeowner, taxpayer, voter and lifelong resident of this city, I obviously want to see us invest in new high schools,” said Darlene Netcoh, President of the Warwick Teachers Union. “It does need to go in front of the voters and I hope the voters vote in favor because if we wait any longer, then it’s just going to get more and more expensive. The longer we wait, we’ll throw the good money after bad trying to repair things.”
“A lot of work has gone into this and I really think it should come down to the taxpayers,” said Committee Chairwoman Judy Cobden at Tuesday’s meeting. “I hope we don’t lose out on this great opportunity. I think we’ve been very transparent.”
The Stage 2 submission to RIDE was submitted on Feb. 15. Gothberg said the submission consisted of six binders containing more than 1,600 pages of data and two sets of drawings, each over 200 pages. These documents are in the process of being reviewed by RIDE and the School Building Authority (SBA).
“We are expecting a request for a supplemental submission,” Gothberg told the school committee. “This is standard procedure on each of our previous stage twos. We’ve had to submit additional information. We expect that the stage two (submission) should go in front of the SBA council for approval around May 15.”
The school building committee has chosen “Our Future Begins Here” as the slogan for the project. Gothberg said there would be information posted on Facebook and Twitter and forums and meetings would be held with the community to win their support.
Gothberg also said the committee should meet with local media outlets, including the Warwick Post.
Once the City Council gives their final approval, the state legislature will need to authorize the project to be placed on the November election ballot.
If the voters approve the funding, the committee will have to return to the City Council again in December and seek their approval. The design of the new buildings would begin in January 2023.
Committee member Karen Bachus asked Gothberg what would happen if the project is defeated at the polls.
“There is no Plan B,” Gothberg replied. “We know that RIDE has already told us that they will not consider or approve renovating our high schools.”
The total cost of a new school replacing Pilgrim is $175 million. The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) will reimburse 43 percent of the cost – $75.4 million. The community share of the cost is $100 million, or 57 percent. The total cost of a new school replacing Toll Gate is $174.5 million. RIDE will reimburse $75 million, equal to 43 percent. The community share of the cost is $99.4 million, or 57 percent.
“At the end of the day, the $350 million project is reimbursed to the tune of roughly $150 million,” Testa noted in February.
State put kibosh on high school repair plans
Last May, the committee voted to approve renovations for Pilgrim High and Toll Gate High Schools. The total cost for Pilgrim was projected to be $176.7 million and the length of construction was to last 36 months. For Toll Gate, the cost was $125.4 million, with construction lasting 36 months.
“RIDE’s feedback was immediately given, and negative,” Gothberg said at the Jan. 11 meeting. “RIDE did not agree with renovating of the high schools due to the difficulty in the phasing of construction and the fact that students would be impacted by construction for four years.”
After meetings with administrators, teachers, department heads, and union leaders, input was gathered and was utilized for the new design concepts.
First Rule About Listserve: Don’t Circulate Listserv
In other news, the Committee approved the first reading of a new policy regarding the use of the school department listserv.
The policy reads: No person or institution shall knowingly circulate, or permit to be circulated, on the School Department Listserv:
- Any information related to any activity directed at the success or failure of a political party or candidate for federal, state, or municipal office;
- Any information promoting the solicitation or receipt of political contributions, including invitations to fundraising events, for any political party or candidate.
However, this policy shall not prohibit the distribution of information about a candidate public forum that is open on an equal basis to all candidates for that office.
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