Above: A proposal for a new Pilgrim High School in Warwick.
We look at Barrington, North Kingstown, Warwick, Smithfield and South Kingstown
It’s no secret that East Greenwich residents will be casting a vote on a $150 million open-ended school construction bond question Nov. 7. But EG isn’t the only Rhode Island town with school construction projects on the ballot.
The push for school renovation projects is due to the temporary “Necessity of School Construction” program by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), which is offering reimbursement bonuses above the normal reimbursement a district could expect for overall construction costs.
In addition to EG’s guaranteed 35 percent reimbursement from the state, under this program, this district is eligible for up to an additional 20 percent back in 5 percent increments if certain criteria regarding the construction are met.
The proposed $150 million master plan in EG calls for a new building at Frenchtown and a new build or addition and renovation at Hanaford. Meadowbrook would become a PK-K facility, and renovations would be made to EGHS. Eldredge would close as a school.
With each school district facing looming deadlines to take advantage of state dollars for school construction, it’s not surprising that so many are putting up master plans of their own.
Barrington is asking its residents to approve a $250 million school construction bond without a master plan – opting to get voter approval for the dollars before deciding how to spend them. During a July meeting, the Barrington Town Council voted 5-0 to put the question to voters.
According to a document on the Barrington Public School website labeled “Community Conversation #1” and dated Sept. 20, 2023, “The referendum vote on November 7 is an authorization for a $250 million construction bond, not the project details …” and “If approved … the school committee will work with the community to develop the details later.” It also states, “The details of this plan will be developed together with a common goal to create the blueprint for our educational future!”
In accordance with RIDE guidelines, the second stage of the plan [aka Stage II] requires “the development of schematic design documentation that can be used to provide dependable cost estimates.”
Stage II applications need to be submitted to RIDE by Feb. 15, 2024.
In accordance with RIDE guidelines, the second stage of the plan requires “the development of schematic design documentation that can be used to provide dependable cost estimates.”
Unlike Barrington, the North Kingstown School district is seeking a $167 million bond to construct a very specific project. The money would go to constructing a “new state of the art middle school at the current Davisville Middle School site with 6-8 configuration,” according to a document on the NKSD website.
In addition to the new or renovated middle school, the money would go to renovating elementary schools, expanding special education programs, consolidating administrative offices, and renovating other school buildings.
One major difference to other school construction referendums is that the town of North Kingstown is asking voters to approve more than just the construction bond with one vote. In November NK residents will vote to approve or reject construction of a new middle school and a new public safety complex for a combined $222.4 million. Also on the ballot is a $25 million bond to finance an indoor recreation center.
After several hours of discussion, the Warwick City Council Sept. 18 approved by an 8-1 vote issuing $350 million in bond funding, essentially providing the go-ahead for construction. Voters had approved the bond referendum question in November 2022.
The plan is to use the $350 million to construct two new high schools to replace Toll Gate and Pilgrim high schools.
By building two high schools instead of one, the district can avoid housing nearly 2,500 students in one location and instead place roughly 1,200 students in each, which is a “reasonable number,” according to William McCaffery, West Warwick assistant superintendent and director of secondary education.
To view a seven-part video series on the proposed project, click HERE.
One town that has already taken advantage of the RIDE school construction reimbursement is Smithfield.
In November 2018, town residents voted in a $45 million project to renovate and put on additions to three or its elementary schools while closing a fourth. The state initially agreed to pay 35 percent of the cost, eventually adding 15 percent in bonuses when the construction completed in 2021. That additional bonus money occurred before the RI state legislation increased the bonus cap for school construction projects to 20 percent at the end of the latest session.
While many Rhode Islanders will be voting on school renovation bonds this November, the residents of South Kingstown won’t be. On Sept. 11, the South Kingstown Town Council withdrew a $125 million school construction bond to construct a new high school, athletic facility, and other school facilities.
Members of the council were told that the estimated cost of the project was closer to $150 million, not the $125 million they voted on earlier in the year.
“We have to move a project forward for this community that works,” said SK Town Council member Deborah D. Bergner before voting to remove the ballot initiative.
Members of the South Kingstown Town Council said they would try to get the referendum back on the calendar for the spring.