Building Committee Recommends Decommissioning Eldredge

by | Jul 17, 2022

By Aiza Shaikh 

The EGSD Building Committee last week voted unanimously, 9-0, to recommend decommissioning Eldredge Elementary as a school as part of the town’s most significant school construction plan since the building of a new Cole Middle School in 2011. 

As an advisory committee – consisting of a chair, two Town Council members, one community member, one School Committee member and school administrators – the Building Committee can only recommend items to bring to the School Committee for consideration. 

Before deciding on Eldredge’s decommission, committee members reviewed alternative plans that would allow Eldredge to still be used as a school building. This was partly by design but also, according to officials, because of some residents’ concerns that the building has important historic significance as a school. 

Alternate plans included leaving the existing building as is, adding on to the building in two different ways, and demolishing the existing building while constructing a new one on the field (instead of doing that on the Frenchtown site). 

Renovating the building to reach 21st century standards would be costly because of its historic nature and the site might need a lot of remediation. Its location in the middle of a neighborhood also would make major construction more challenging. In addition, renovations would mean vacating the building for a long period of time. 

“Renovations and additions to historic structures come at a cost premium,” said Philip Conte, president of StudioJAED, the architecture firm working on the project. “Maybe there’d be some modifications to the bus drop-off and parent drop-off/parking because of the large additions, but . . . we’re almost doubling the size of the existing building. This is not a typical approach to this type of project.” 

Conte also noted that old buildings like Eldredge “were never meant to be added onto.” 

“[The Eldredge building] has lived its life,” Conte said. “It is still useful, but not as a school and certainly not as a school that would require this extent of intervention.” 

An advantage to building a new Eldredge school would be that the existing building could continue to operate while construction (on the field) was going on – much like the plan for Frenchtown School, since it would be built where fields currently is. However, the size of the new building would limit outdoor space for community use. Plus, that plan would involve demolishing the current Eldredge building. 

“There are more disadvantages than advantages here,” said Conte. “The available site that you would have after a new construction on the adjacent lot is limited. Any new construction also does impact the historical context of East Greenwich and this area by demolishing the existing building.” 

A community member attending the meeting asked if the committee considered renovating Eldredge as a pre-K to kindergarten school to alleviate the numbers of students in the elementary schools. 

In response, construction coordinator Manuel Cordero Alvarado said there would be issues with accessibility, and that the committee is “thinking about early childhood in general, across the district.” 

Committee Chair Alyson Powell said she thought community members’ wishes to keep Eldredge as a school has to do with its historic significance. 

“I can’t say for sure but I would imagine that much of the concern about Eldredge being taken offline is because of its historic nature, the character, [and] the fact that we have the field as a community resource,” Powell said. 

Powell also suggested the community come up with alternate ideas for the building’s use. 

“I just know that a lot of the concern about Eldredge is that it is literally in the heart of the community,” Powell added. “I think there will be many people who are disappointed if it is no longer a school. I think we may need to take it upon ourselves – with the cooperation of our Town Council members, our town manager, community groups, parent organizations – to try to at least come up with some ideas of what this building could be moving forward.” 

The committee vote to recommend decommissioning Eldredge as a school is just a recommendation to the Town Council. The group has no formal power. The recommendation would go to the Town Council, which alone has the power to approve projects involving bond referenda. 

The committee also discussed the proposed construction of a new Frenchtown school, which would cover grades 3-5. 

Under the proposal, which is still just a proposal, the new school would be built behind the current building, with the fields moving from behind the school to the front instead (after the old building was demolished). 

Meadowbrook and Hanaford would also be renovated, and Hanaford would become a K-2 school like Meadowbrook.

As the only 3-5 school in the district, Frenchtown’s population would double from 300 to 600. 

At the meeting, Conte encouraged community members to ask questions if they are worried about a single building housing as many as 600 students. 

“A 600-student elementary school is not big in other areas of the country, even in Rhode Island,” said Conte. “I would encourage those concerned [to] ask that question so that we can maybe reply with some examples of where that has been successfully overcome.” 

Conte called Frenchtown “the most advantageous site in terms of building new construction while limiting disruption,” since students could continue to go to school in the original Frenchtown School during construction.

“We take those available fields and move them down to the front of the school at the roadside,” he said. “That area is going to become a great community resource for a lot of field use and activities.” 

The committee members also acknowledged that transportation is an issue that they intend to address at the next scheduled meeting. 

“We know that traffic and transportation are a major concern and we are going to do everything in our power to try to get that information to disseminate to this group,” Powell said. 

Editor’s note: Nothing has been decided yet. That has to be done by the School Committee and then approved by the Town Council, in terms of the dollar figure. Community input is welcome. You can reach Alyson Powell at [email protected]  

Aiza Shaikh, a sophomore at the University of Connecticut and Class of 2021 EGHS alum, has been an EG resident since 2008. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, traveling, and eating coffee ice cream. 

Photo by Ray Johnson

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29 Comments

  1. Mike G

    Renovate the existing elementary schools as needed. Build a fifth elementary school somewhere out by Division, Shippeetown and Middle Roads. Go back to K-5 schools. Less busing, longer terms at one school with administrators/teachers & potentially siblings.

    Reply
    • Kim ambler

      This makes way more sense!

      Reply
    • DB

      Agreed – build the next school off of division on part of the 80 acres development being discussed. Smaller Schools are better. This is why school choice is needed.

      Keep Eldridge as is and have parents choose to attend there.
      Maintain Other schools so they are in top condition, with AC, proper ventilation, heat, etc. The basics, not new fads like sensory rooms.

      Reply
      • SC

        Mike G, I’ve been thinking the same thing re: returning to K-5 schools.

        Would love to hear more, if anyone knows, why EG made the move to “consolidated” K-2 and 3-5 schools, and did away with the K-5 model? Most towns in RI/MA (and even beyond) have K-5 schools. Seems like that model better allows for population expansion, where in if you need more room, a new neighborhood K-5 school could be built, versus figuring out space at both the K-2 and the 3-5 building. If a consolidated 3-5 is built, what happens when the town outgrows that building?

        Also- has anyone ever seen the amount of traffic and congestion created during Cole pick up? Can you imagine that daily on Frenchtown Road?

        Reply
  2. Laura Sullivan

    If Eldredge is no longer suited for use as a school, it still has another life! In addition to offices for the School Administration, how about opening it up as an exhibit space and archive storage for the East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society, which has been displaced since the Old Jail was sold? Or, divide the space up for co-ops/non-profits (think Hope & Main in Warren, formerly a school). Keeping the building intact and serving new purposes would also honor the man for whom the building was named: In addition to being a doctor, James Eldredge served East Greenwich as a member of the Town Council, State legislature and president of the School Committee.

    And keeping Eldredge Field as a gathering place for community events and concerts, plus for recreation and sports, is also critical. How about installing those pickleball courts there, rather than adjacent to Academy Field, which is already struggling for space and parking? Eldredge Field is a wonderful space, and the site of many an historic gathering, including East Greenwich’s Tercentenary Celebration, a two-week party that took place exactly 45 years ago. The Field was covered by a collossal tent, where the residents celebrated together. We’ll need that space for the Town’s 350th, in 2027!

    Reply
  3. Renu Englehart

    I would like to point out that the committee did not agree to anything about building a new school or where. The next Building Committee meeting is on 7/27 and please email or attend with any questions.

    Reply
    • Shaun W

      Thanks, Renu! Should we just be emailing [email protected]?

      It would be heartbreaking to see Eldridge not be a school anymore. If it is feasible to save it to keep it as a school, that would be incredible for the community.

      Reply
  4. Dan Lake

    I would like to explore establishing a center for the arts, with a coalition of existing art entities such as our 63 year old East Greenwich Art Club and the Cultural Organization of the Arts as members. Pull together a focus group, including Nancy Scelsa, Anthony Tomaselli, and other leaders in the arts and art businesses. Explore connecting to the new CTE program in the High School. Investigate how the Warwick Center for the Arts is organized.

    Reply
    • Bethany Warburton

      Great idea re: CTE! Maybe move departments from the old police station and tear that down for more open space adjacent to Academy field?

      Reply
    • Justin Cahir

      These are great ideas, Dan. I also suggested at the meeting this building somehow be utilized to extend our CTE program in EG. Not only does it give EG students and other towns student another option for post high school preparation, but it will bring additional revenue into the town.

      Reply
  5. Pam Thomas

    If Eldredge does not become a community center of some sort, it surely would be a great in-town site for badly needed condos/apartments. Newport shut down its many tiny, aged elementary schools when it built the new big Pell school almost ten years ago. All of them have become housing or offices.

    Reply
    • Lindsey Goulet

      Maybe not “offices”. Housing for sure or buildouts for small businesses and little markets like Farm Fresh building in Providence.

      Reply
    • camille speca

      Definitely not more housing. We are burgeoning with people.

      Reply
      • Johann Patlak

        Some of my best friends are people!

        Reply
  6. Anna Z

    If Eldredge no longer be used as a school at some point, should be re-purposed to provide more housing for middle class families who are priced out of living in East Greenwich. Suggestions for other non profit or artistic purposes, while commendable, would not be highest and best use in my humble opinion.

    Reply
    • Heather

      They are proposing to build a massive affordable housing community already on the other side of route 2. Which is why they are already thinking of the challenges they are going to face with all the new students in the schools. Building more houses/apartments where a school was torn down makes absolutely no sense. There is no space for that on the Hill. There would be no parking for anyone living in any new spaces. The proposed affordable housing on the other side makes much more sense. There is space and ample amount of land there to accommodate a development such as that without disrupting the current established community.

      Reply
  7. Heather

    Eldredge needs to be left standing. It should not even cross anyone’s mind to be torn down. And as a resident of the area, there is no way I would agree to have any condos or apartments being built there. I would fight that to no end. We don’t need anymore housing right in that little section. Figure out how to keep it a school. Yes it will cost more money but sometimes you need to spend a little more money to keep things working great and up to date. It would truly be a huge disappointment if they decommissioned Eldredge. I hope the town does not pass the school committee vote.

    Reply
    • DB

      Agreed!!! We want a small community, but we move education to buildings that look like factories. I remember walking to Eldridge. Home town school feeling is what our kids need. Learning happens everywhere, it does not need to be brand new facility

      Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      Heather, the building committee rejected any idea of demolishing Eldredge. They said they thought it should be repurposed. Also, no decisions have been made. The building committee is advisory only. Next stop is the School Committee, followed by the Town Council (which would be approving a bond referendum). So there is time to have your voice heard.

      Reply
  8. Rose

    Repurpose it. It’s lived a long life as a school.

    Reply
  9. Mark

    EG did it to the old town hall. It should not do it to Eldrege.

    Reply
  10. RAY RICCIO

    News Flash East Greenwich Face Book Page will change it’s existing designation from East Greenwich Then and Now to solely East Greenwich Now.

    Reply
  11. S. Hardy

    All are interesting comments. Having been part of the East Greenwich community for almost 50 years I pray it will not become residential condos. With the realization that times change it would be a shame to lose its true integrity. Might I suggest East Greenwich Center for the Arts and History. It would include a museum as well as studios for music, voice, theatre arts as well of all other art mediums.

    Reply
  12. Barbara LaPlume

    Being a graduate of Eldredge school I would not like the idea of tearing done this historical site. Our unique Town Hall was torn down which became a parking lot. This building could be repurposed for many non profit uses. The Historical society, which has no official meeting place after the Old Jail was no longer available. I’m sure there would be others that would welcome the space. As far as the field, a wonderful gathering place for concerts, center for the Arts etc.

    Reply
    • Renu Englehart

      Hi Mrs LaPlume; Eldredge is not being demolished. It’ll be repurposed and there are some great ideas above which the school committee can discuss.

      Reply
  13. Matt Tactacan

    Sad to see the OG Eldredge go as a school! Have lots of fond memories there. hope that they can repurpose it and maintain the field. its the perfect place for events!

    Reply
  14. Marge

    I find it cynical that no one has commented that we are on the verge of a recession, interest rates are skyrocketing as well as the cost of fuel, groceries…well just about everything! It is already becomming difficult to survive oin East Greenwich with the high RE taxes, nevermind the the condition of the State of RI. So let’s spend some more!

    Sometimes you have to make due with what you have. This current School Committee just wants to spend spend spend. All these folks who have come here never acknowledge the residents who supported East Greenwich when it was such a small quiant town. It is become unaffordable for only those who are well to do. It’s a shame! Good luck getting this passed under the current economical environment.

    Reply
  15. Kim ambler

    “Renovations and additions to historic structures come at a cost premium,” said Philip Conte, president of StudioJAED, the architecture firm working on the project. When you look at the hard numbers Frenchtown and EGHS are more expensive to renovate, so why would we give up on this school so easily!? Don’t just blinding trust what an out-of-town architect is advising. We need to hold on to our best school. Would love to see another article that has a look at the fluff they have presented as hard facts. The numbers for Eldredge are not any worse than for any other of our schools.

    Reply
  16. RAY RICCIO

    “Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,
    Where health and plenty cheared the labouring swain,
    Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
    And parting summer’s lingering blooms delayed,
    Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
    Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
    How often have I loitered o’er thy green,
    Where humble happiness endeared each scene! “

    I stand high upon a hill as a beacon of a learning institution. Come my children and I will embrace your thoughts of yesterday and today for you to share for a thousand tomorrows.

    Race, color or creed has no meaning here but you will learn “if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” You will learn of the writings of Twain, Dickens, Frost, Thoreau, Stephenson, Pyle, O’Henry as You embrace the stories of lore and enlightenment. Let laughter and empathy compose you soul and knowledge engineer your intellect. You will learn it wise not to suffer fools gladly.

    Where a community minus the vitriol of today’s political climate would come for a period or four of more years to accept a vaccination which would eventually eradicate polio.

    Where a Vice Principal would make what had to be an arduous walk to the podium in the gymnasium to address sixth, seventh and eighth graders and inform them the President of United States had been assassinated. That school for the day would be dismissed.

    Where every Memorial Day wreaths would be lain at the entrance to the stands, a Memorial dedicated to WWII veterans. As kids we’d scamper up the stairs after the volley to retrieve the empty cartridges.

    A field where a semi-professional football team would play their home games. A gymnasium where OLM Basketball Team on Saturdays would practice as that school did not have one.

    Hanaford School would be decommissioned at one point and then recommissioned. Did we learn anything?
    ..
    Auslanders and natives have thought different of your purpose.

    I personally cannot think of Elderage for a purpose other than for what it is intended.

    Reply

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