CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the matter voted on Tuesday night. The vote concerned support for extending the start and end deadlines on for work on the new buildings. We regret, and have corrected, the error.
WARWICK, RI — Construction on a $350 million project for two new high schools may be delayed as the city reviews the plans in light of developing market conditions including inflation and rising interest rates.
Tuesday night, School Committee Chairman David Testa noted the City Council’s request for bids for a review of the peer review of the project conducted by the committee, announced by the Council last month.
“We will hire a company to review those plans as they relate to today’s market conditions. A number of factors have changed since November, such as higher interest rates, banking concerns and continued inflation. I believe in the best interest of all Warwick taxpayers, we should have an updated review of the proposed plans with today’s economic conditions factored in,” Council President Steve McAllister noted in his Council Update column at the time.
Testa said the City Council passed a resolution asking the General Assembly to extend the starting and ending dates of all school construction projects by six months on the front end and the back end. The bills are in the House and Senate now, Testa said.
The committee voted to approve a resolution supporting the city’s request for the wider project window.
“We did that because every city and town right now is going for the same materials,” said School Committee member Shaun Galligan. Originally, the new high schools project was due to begin Jan. 31, 2023, but the requested window would allow them to begin at the end of June instead. The extra time also provides more space for the new review before the project begins.
Last November, voters approved the $350 million bond to replace Toll Gate High and Pilgrim High Schools. The measure passed by a 59.2 percent margin, with 18,057 votes in favor and 12,419 opposed.
The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) may reimburse the district for the construction of the new high schools for $314 million out of the $350 million bond instead of $300 million as originally anticipated, according to Stephen Gothberg, Director of Buildings and Grounds.
The total cost of the Pilgrim High rebuild is $175 million. The total cost of the Toll Gate High rebuild is $174.5 million. Gothberg said last May if the bond referendum for the new high schools was approved, RIDE would reimburse the district for an additional $8.9 million, which would lower the expense to taxpayers.
“Once the city does its review of our review, if those numbers match, the next step would be we have to start designing,” Testa continued. “So the city would have to approve it, appropriate funding from the $350 million bond so we can start a design process which takes 10 to 12 months.”
There was some criticism regarding how the school department presented the new high schools project.
“I feel that the administration and Mr. Testa have been less than transparent and honest throughout the entire construction process and that the dishonesty and deceptiveness continues with Mr. Testa failing to release the peer review on the schools,” said resident Rob Cote, a frequent city critic who usually voices his concerns during City Council public speaking time.
“Both Mr. Testa, (Superintendent Lynn) Dambruch, and Mr. Gothberg all know that now as I told everyone last March, that you will never be able to build these schools as presented for the $350 million. Now you’re in the process of shrinking the footprint and reducing the amenities that you sold to the public, which they voted on. That’s why you won’t release these documents to the public and I feel that’s very disingenuous.”
HVAC renovations approved
In unrelated news, the Committee authorized Gothberg and the building committee to address HVAC renovations on three elementary schools deemed to be in the “worst” condition – Greenwood, Oakland Beach, and Holliman. The total cost of the repairs will be a total of $19.4 million. Holliman and Oakland Beach will cost $7.5 million each. Greenwood will cost $4.4 million.
Gothberg explained the boilers at those three schools, along with the ones at Hoxsie, Norwood, and Wyman Elementary schools were failing and needed to be replaced. The initial estimates for the repair work for the six elementary schools were issued in 2019. Due to inflation and escalation, the costs increased significantly, according to Gothberg.
Gothberg also provided an update on renovations to Sherman Elementary School and Winman Middle School. The buildings are getting new floors, new bookcases, sinks, closets, drop ceilings in stairwells, and whiteboards.
Parent and Family Engagement Policy Adopted
The school committee also approved a Parent and Family Engagement policy.
The policy reads in part:
The Warwick Public Schools recognizes the importance of parents/guardians and their role in supporting and strengthening student academic achievement. Warwick Public Schools agrees to collaborate with parents, including parents of Title I children, to annually implement the following:
Notifies each parent of the parent and family engagement policy on an annual basis. In addition, the Parent and Family Engagement Policy shall be distributed to Title I families.
- Notifies each student’s parents/guardians when their attending school has been identified as in need of improvement. If the school is identified as in need of improvement, parents/guardians will be notified of school choice and supplemental educational services options.
- Notifies each student’s parents/guardians if his/her teacher in a core academic subject does not meet state qualifications and licensure criteria for 20 days or more.
- Notifies each student’s parents/guardians when a student is recommended for any
interventions including those listed in Personal Literacy Plans.
- Reports student progress to parents/guardians:
- a) Progress and comments are shared as outlined in Policy IKAB;
- b) Parents/guardians are informed when their child is at-risk for poor learning
outcomes based on attendance, conduct, achievement levels, and/or grades ; and
- c) Progress reports and conferences may be requested by parents/guardians at any
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