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School Build Costs Rise, Gibbons Helms Pilgrim

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Warwick Veterans Middle School, 2401 W Shore Rd, Warwick, RI, is the venue for the Warwick School Committee meetings.

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Warwick Veterans Middle School, 2401 W Shore Rd, Warwick, RI, is the venue for the Warwick School Committee meetings.
[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Warwick Veterans Middle School, 2401 W Shore Rd, Warwick, RI, is the venue for the Warwick School Committee meetings. School build costs and possible cuts to programs were discussed at the April 12 meeting.
WARWICK, RI – Supply chain problems and the increased cost of building materials is impacting the district’s school build costs.

Stephen Gothberg, the Director of Buildings and Grounds at Warwick Public Schools, said the renovations planned for Hoxsie Elementary School, including HVAC and ADA upgrades, are currently $1.2 million over budget. However, $400,000 is left over from the roofing project which was done a few years ago can be used to help pay for the cost overrun, Gothberg noted.

Work is also planned for Sherman Elementary, Winman Middle School, and Greenwood Elementary, which need new windows and HVAC rooftop equipment. However, Gothberg said,  there were only two bidders for the Winman renovations. One bid was for $13.65 million and the other was for $14.5 million.

Gothberg said the building committee was doing their best to keep costs down and can use leftover funds which had been allocated for Drum Rock, Pilgrim, and Toll Gate High School. Some projects might be reduced in scope, he said.

Judy Cobden, chairwoman of the Warwick School Committee, said she was “shocked” by the cost estimates for the school building projects.

“We can’t control the prices of things right now,” Cobden noted.

Gothberg explained there is a “glut of work” now due to the fact nothing was happening for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I see gouging in the supply chain,” Gothberg said, noting prices were increasing at a rate of 30 to 50 percent per month.

David Testa, the chairman of the building committee, said they were not ready to go out to bid on the other elementary school projects yet, “But we are running into this whipsaw of inflation, lead time, and COVID-related (issues). The Hoxsie bid was quite a shock because up until this time, we’ve been doing really well in budgeting versus where the bids come in at. We’ll make the best decisions that we can make. It’s still exciting knowing that we’re going to modernize these buildings.”

Extended School Year Program Cuts

Parents expressed anger over possible cuts to the district’s ESY (Extended School Year) program at Tuesday’s school committee meeting.ESY services are not the same as summer school. They are specialized instruction or related services that are part of a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Tracy McDermott, who works as a teacher’s assistant, recalled an e-mail from the Director of Special Education, which said there would be four weeks of ESY this year, four days a week.

“When I started, which was 18 years ago, we had eight weeks of ESY for five days a week. So 40 days and now we have possibly been reduced down to 16,” McDermott said.

Those services will only be for students attending the alternate assessment programs, the preschool programs, and the transition program in person. Every other student would be virtual.

The central administration team had discussed some special education students attending ESY virtually while others would attend in person.

McDermott said she was “Horrified, to say the least, that this would be a discussion in a budget meeting.”

Tara Lavasseur, a parent, said the reductions in ESY hours was going to have a detrimental impact on the most emotionally vulnerable in the school system.

“You are creating an interruption. The meaningful progression of the IEP goals is likely to be significantly jeopardized if the ESY and WELC (Warwick Early Learning Center) services are not provided. Do not cut the budget for our ESY or WELC students.”

The committee will be holding budget hearings to discuss ESY and other elements of school spending, on April 19 and 26.

Gibbons named Pilgrim’s new principal

Superintendent Lynn Dambruch welcomed Toby Gibbons, the new Principal of Pilgrim High School, to the district. In 2019, when Gibbons was at Narragansett High School, he was honored as Assistant Principal of the Year by the Rhode Island Association of School Principals. More recently, Gibbons served as principal at East Providence High School.

Gibbons is the permanent new hire for the job following the death of former Principal Gerald Habershaw.

Weeks prior to his death, Habershaw had been placed on paid administrative leave following a COVID-19 outbreak among students and staff at the school, partly attributed to the Nov. 6 homecoming dance. The building was closed and students returned to distance learning through the Thanksgiving break.

The school was temporarily closed and a switch was made to hybrid learning as an investigation into the organization of the dance, which violated numerous COVID safety rules communicated to Habershaw verbally and in writing, was conducted by the Warwick School Department. Habershaw died from a heart attack a few days after Thanksgiving.


Joe Siegel
Author: Joe Siegel

Joe Siegel is a regular contributing writer for His reporting has appeared in The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro and EDGE.

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