Elementary School Tours Show Overcrowding, Wear

by | Jun 1, 2023

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.

Instruments stored in the gym at Eldredge Elementary School. Photo by Rebecca Bliss

The cafeteria at Eldredge is dark and cramped. Photo by Rebecca Bliss

A makeshift classroom in a hallway at Eldredge. Photo by Rebecca Bliss

The library media center at Eldredge is packed to the gills. Photo by Rebecca Bliss

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Nicole Bucka
Nicole Bucka
June 2, 2023 6:12 am

Thank you for writing this important piece and giving adequate attention the harm this situation creates for our most vulnerable students. The bond this fall is a win-win for all kids and a testament to our values as a community. #choosetoinclude

June 2, 2023 8:04 am

Thanks- and I can’t wait to read about the high school conditions… hopefully the second floor was actually open for visitors to see- considering parts of it were closed off with police tape due to flooding for a few straight weeks!

June 2, 2023 8:18 am

Our children are our future…ALL children. We must provide them with the best educational opportunities possible. Therefore, we must support the upcoming bond issue.

Chris R.
Chris R.
June 2, 2023 8:24 am

Time for upgrades all around, and there is no reason in a community like EG why we can’t make this happen. People here spend more for front yard shrubs and fancy holiday displays than this bond, a true investment in our kids and the future of the town, would cost each homeowner.

What’s not mentioned in this article is the huge additional burden potentially placed on the system if / when the 400+ units and 1300+ people are added to our town via the huge development planned off of Division Road. Does the bond account for that additional ramp-up? Certainly the schools as-is cannot handle it, unless we stick more school teachers and kids in trailers and closets (facepalm.)

Joe Taxpayer
Joe Taxpayer
June 2, 2023 6:02 pm

So wait a minute ! Now EG taxpayers are being asked/expected to pay for school renovations needed due to overcrowding. How about EG stops allowing “affordable” housing (which brings with it more students) until current EG residents’ needs can be met?? Also, how about putting an end to students who do not even live in EG to attend EG schools ?! Enough is enough !

Tad Stoermer
June 3, 2023 12:22 pm

East Greenwich is at a critical juncture, and we have a unique opportunity to address our pressing educational needs through the bond issue. With the state reimbursing as much as 60% of the cost, it is an advantageous moment to invest in building new schools for our community. Having visited the schools as part of the recent tours, it is clear that our current school facilities are outdated and unable to accommodate the evolving needs of our students. By supporting this bond issue, we can ensure that our children receive the quality education they deserve in modern, state-of-the-art facilities — and can enjoy the same benefits as generations have enjoyed here in the past. Moreover, this initiative becomes even more financially viable for our community with such substantial state funding. We must seize this chance to invest in our future, providing our students with the best possible learning environments and setting East Greenwich on a path toward continued educational excellence.

Matthew Adams
August 30, 2023 11:27 pm

Reading this article reminded me of when my niece attended Hanaford Elementary a few years ago. It was disheartening to see her art class take place in a cramped corner of the gym because there wasn’t sufficient room elsewhere. The situation you describe here validates the pressing need for community members to support the proposed school bond; it’s not just about buildings, it’s about creating an environment where every child can truly thrive.


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