Above: A hallway at Hanaford Elementary School. Every space is needed so hallways are used for storage.
On the theory that seeing is believing, school officials invited the public to tours of five of the district’s six school buildings in April and May, hoping to illustrate the need for one or two new elementary school buildings and extensive renovations at others. Additionally, it wanted to show why they are recommending decommissioning the Eldredge building as a school. (A future article will look at the issues outlined during the tour of East Greenwich High School.)
This is all because school officials are hoping voters will agree in November to support a school bond of up to $180 million (the actual amount will not be decided until sometime in August). As of now, as much as 52 percent – and possibly a higher percentage depending on the General Assembly – of any school bond could be eligible for state reimbursement. Because the normal reimbursement rate is 35 percent, both town and school officials are eager to take advantage of the higher reimbursement.
Still, the largest bond referendum to go before East Greenwich voters was for $52 million in 2008, for the new Cole Middle School. So officials want to show voters why they are looking at potentially as much as $180 million.
East Greenwich school buildings skew older, with five of the six more than 50 years old and one nearly 100 years old. Eldredge Elementary was built in 1927, Hanaford Elementary in 1958, Frenchtown Elementary in 1964, EGHS in 1965, Meadowbrook Farms Elementary in 1969, and Cole Middle School in 2011.
All four elementary schools are overcrowded, according to officials, and tours showed everything from students being taught in hallways and closets (which means there’s no place to store things so spaces like cafeterias and gyms have become makeshift storage areas) to classrooms that are not easily accessible to those with mobility issues.
In many instances, it is students with special needs requiring additional services who are taught in areas other than classrooms. When these buildings were designed, officials said, most students with special needs did not attend regular community schools so accommodating their needs was not even considered.
Needless to say, that has changed significantly. As has educational pedagogy, where many of the practices originally utilized for students with special needs are seen to have benefits for all students (including sensory rooms and quiet spaces).
At Meadowbrook, for instance, the cafetorium stage has been repurposed as an OT/sensory room; it has not been used as an actual stage in years. The PE and OT teachers have tiny spaces in the back for their desks; they don’t have designated offices or true workstations.
The lack of extra space at Meadowbrook means when a private place is needed for student testing, Principal Dom Giusti will give up his office.
There is a 23-year-old trailer that serves as the art and music room at Meadowbrook. It is only accessible from the outside and the ramp has a sharp angle. According to Giusti, last year a student in a wheelchair was simply unable to get to the classroom.
The situations at Hanaford and Frenchtown are similar.
According to Principal Maryann Crudale at Frenchtown, “We are outgrowing the building as our student population and staffing continue to grow. The amount of shared space among multiple specialists and for a variety of purposes is at an all-time high. We are contending with the aging out of the physical plant as we are in need of a new roof, replacement of the original HVAC system, and a portable space that has been in place far longer than its intended life expectancy. While trying to be creative and optimize space throughout the building to best serve our students, we have greatly reduced storage space.”
At Eldredge, the issues become more complicated because of the building’s age. Any major renovations would require the building be brought up to code for schools, particularly in terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The building has significant accessibility challenges. To even get into the building for those who have a mobility impairment, they have to park by the dumpster on the backside of the building, go down a ramp toward the gym, enter through the gym, and take an elevator. Because the ramp slopes down, it often collects debris (sand, water) and requires constant vigilance to keep clear.
The library at Eldredge is very small, making it difficult to accommodate entire classes (each class has a library period once/week). The library is also used for faculty meetings but doesn’t allow for breakout spaces, and collaboration is limited.
The Eldredge cafeteria is small and dark – one official said it had a “dungeon kind of feeling.” Only one grade can eat there at a time and, depending on the year, maybe not all of the students can actually fit in the cafeteria so they spill out into the adjoining hallway.
Additionally, Eldredge does not have enough outlets in the classrooms and the building needs updated electrical panels.
Some of these things will need to be updated regardless of the building’s future, but officials said school building requirements are significantly greater than if the building was used for other purposes.
What will happen to the building is not under discussion at this time but officials have suggested it could provide municipal office space, or space for local organizations among other possibilities. There is no plan to tear down the building.
Read more about the school construction plans HERE.