HS Maintenance & Hanaford Focus of Building Committee Meeting

by | Jan 3, 2024

Above: It was a packed house for the School Building Committee meeting Tuesday night at Swift Community Center.

Residents voice concerns while officials debate funding’s role in solving issues. 

Maintenance issues at EG High School and a pivot to a new build at Hanaford were the main focus of a three-hour School Building Committee meeting on Tuesday night that over 30 people attended in person. 

Ongoing High School Maintenance Issues

Since the end of November, EGHS has had days without heat, students evacuated following a burnt extension cord, and leaks from water built up between a section of the roof and the roof membrane.   

“I can assure you that the roof is not going to collapse,” said Bob Wilmarth, Director of Facilities for EGPS, speaking to concerned residents on Tuesday. “There’s a section of the building where the roof is leaking actively. It’s not because the roof is bad. It’s because water is trapped in between [the roof and roof membrane], and it’s expensive to fix.”

The other section of the building under continued maintenance is a repair to a heating pipe in “one tiny section of hallway,” Wilmarth said. When asked when these maintenance issues would be resolved, he said they would be resolved in the “next couple of weeks.”

At the meeting, officials pointed to roughly $15 million in deferred maintenance for the high school, with Wilmarth saying, “It is down from $60 [million] ten years ago.”

However, many residents in attendance questioned why the maintenance issues could not be solved faster and called for a timeline, punch list, and more communication from school officials about these ongoing problems. (Read how students feel about the condition of the high school HERE.)

“I don’t know exactly what the term deferred maintenance means,” said resident Richard Collette. “For me, I hear that, and I hear the work is being deferred. My taxes are not being deferred, nor is my kid’s education. They’re there experiencing this right now.”

Both Wilmarth and School Committee Member Tim Munoz said that fixing these issues comes down to money. In the days prior to the meeting, the state approved $500,000 in emergency funds to aid with the high school maintenance issues, according to Maggie Baker, finance director for EGPS. 

[Author’s note, 1/5/24: The process for requesting RIDE approval of $500,000 emergency funds was started Dec. 4 and approved Dec. 18. The $500,000 comes from a $5 million bond approved by EG voters in 2019. Currently, EGSD can seek approval of up to $500,000 annually for capital improvement projects that can then be submitted for housing aid reimbursement of 35 to 40 percent from the $5 million bond. How to utilize the $500,000 was discussed at a Nov. 8 school facilities subcommittee meeting.]

“The town appropriates money for the schools,” said Munoz. “When the town appropriates something under 3 percent, that makes it a lot harder to pay for maintenance.”

According to Rhode Island law, schools are required to spend “a minimum of three percent (3%) of the operating budget shall be dedicated exclusively for maintenance expenditures.…”

In the last budget cycle, the School Committee approved a budget that was ultimately $500,000 less than what they originally asked the Town Council to allocate. As was reported, that money would likely have been earmarked for hiring staff.

One town official who disagreed with the notion that money is at the center of these issues is Town Manager Andy Nota, who said, “It’s not a lack of funding.” He pointed to his five years on the municipal side of things in town and said, “What I haven’t been able to find is that request.” 

He said he was “completely embarrassed” by some of the “true photos” used in the marketing material for the school bond referendum that highlight the needs of the high school. “And I’m confident that in their own way, School Committee and school staff are also embarrassed by not being able to address some of those immediate issues that need to be dealt with.” He then added, “We need to do something very differently, whether it’s with staffing, whether it’s with outsourcing professional services, or whether it’s with a concerted effort.” 

Many in attendance clapped, and one resident even stood following Nota’s remarks, which finished with, “We should just put our head down, do the work, and get it done.” 

Possible Hanaford Pivot

Both Nota and Munoz mentioned being surprised when Philip Conte, president and CEO of the architecture firm StudioJAED, said Tuesday that a new school at Hanaford might be “more cost-effective” than a “major” renovation and addition at the site. The school would have four tracks (aka classes per grade); the new Frenchtown will hold five tracks. 

Munoz asked Conte what had changed in the last few weeks because previous discussions had centered around an addition and renovation model being the best direction for the school. Conte said discussions with Wilmarth about how much of the school could be saved has changed his mind.

“Now I’m looking at what I thought was maybe keeping 40 percent of the building, now it may be 30 percent of the building,” Conte said. “At some point, it might not make financial sense.”

Despite stating that a new build might be more cost-effective, Conte presented the committee with both options and will use a third party estimator to price them out. Both projects would use the existing footprint of the school. 

Before the Rhode Island Department of Education stage II deadline Feb. 15, the School Committee and the Town Council will need to approve one of the two alternatives for Hanaford.

The School Committee meets next at 6 p.m. in the Cole Middle School library on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

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Justin Cahir
Justin Cahir
January 4, 2024 8:22 am

Is EG News able to get confirmation about the $500k emergency fund that was “secured” days prior to this meeting? The facilities subcommittee minutes from November 8th shows a $500k emergency fund received and earmarked for many issues, not all the HS. Was there a second $500k secured? Nov 8th would have been prior to the issues arose at the HS and would be very misleading to state that $500k was secured in response to the new HS issues.

Elizabeth McNamara
January 5, 2024 12:55 pm
Reply to  Justin Cahir

We just added this additional info to the story:
The process for requesting RIDE approval of $500,000 emergency funds was started Dec. 4 and approved Dec. 18. The $500,000 comes from a $5 million bond approved by EG voters in 2019. Currently, EGSD can seek approval of up to $500,000 annually for capital improvement projects that can then be submitted for housing aid reimbursement of 35 to 40 percent from the $5 million bond. How to utilize the $500,000 was discussed at a Nov. 8 school facilities subcommittee meeting.

Renu Englehart
Renu Englehart
January 4, 2024 9:16 am

I would like to correct one item mentioned in this article; the $500K was not an emergency grant as listed. RIDE gave the schools an approval for an emergency $500k spend from the outstanding $5M bond with a 35% reimbursement. There was still an amount left over from the $5M bond.

I would also add that the schools are in charge of their own budget by law (RIGL 16-7) and they are the only ones who direct monies in their budget to repairs and maintenance.

Nicole Bucka
Nicole Bucka
January 5, 2024 6:25 am

The spin by town officials here is disheartening. Publicly available district funding data demonstrates EG is primarily funded (approaching 90% of its operating budget) by the town tax appropriation. https://tableau.ride.ri.gov/t/Public/views/UCOADashboards/LandingPage?%3Adisplay_count=n&%3Aembed=y&%3Aorigin=viz_share_link&%3AshowAppBanner=false&%3AshowVizHome=n

The district and School Committee have control only a) in the ask (for the last two years the ask put forth has been underfunded by $500,000 each year, $1,000,000 total) and b) in where we cut when underfunded during tight times. Our current policy regarding fund use during “tight” (self inflicted apparently as Town Mgr Nota states there is plenty of money) prioritized instruction and personnel who directly serve children/students. It’s not hard to see how facilities may be put on hold. It’s no different than a family budget.

What we need right now is for our town officials to come to the table with a recognition of their role in the current challenges, not finger pointing. The school district will never be able to do better (given the town funds 90% of it) without their awareness and respectful collaboration.

January 5, 2024 2:35 pm
Reply to  Nicole Bucka

Town Manager Nota is right here though, isn’t he? I’m guessing the per pupil funding the town is providing is not low compared to similar districts. Decisions are made with how to spend that money.

I find it a bit concerning our director of facilities is downplaying “one tiny section of hallway” and that the roof is fine it’s just “actively leaking”. The bottom line is that the building has not been maintained in a way that we can be proud of despite a very healthy funding level.

If we don’t set high standards and ensure accountability, we’ll continue to do worse and worse.

Peter Carney
Peter Carney
January 5, 2024 9:01 am

Perhaps EG News could follow-up on this aspect…can the School Committee or Superintendent detail what facility issues were targeted for repair but were unable to be addressed over the past two years because the Town Council did not meet the School Committee’s budget requests over those two years?

Heather Larkin
Heather Larkin
January 5, 2024 11:49 am
Reply to  Peter Carney

Great question!

Nicole Bucka
Nicole Bucka
January 6, 2024 9:22 am
Reply to  Peter Carney

It’s all public on the school committee page of the district website.

Because the school district by statute has its own governance, it doesn’t work the same as the town departments (eg police, fire, etc). Items aren’t one by one shared, it’s a much bigger process for a reason- education has an immense amount of regulations and laws that a town official has limited knowledge of.
First, facilities needs were embedded in the district’s overall budget ask to the town (that was underfunded by $500,000) with an entire evening public presentation and discussion of facilities specifically (in the evening, open to the public). I’d ask all who are angry with facilities right now to reflect: Did you voice any concern with year after year of your tax dollars being funneled in other directions? Town budget mtgs are typically pretty empty.
Next, the SC did request a supplemental appropriation for the 2023 fiscal year. It was denied.
Can we stop the finger pointing now? Please?

william zech
william zech
January 6, 2024 8:24 am

Has anyone identified WHERE the leak(s)are on the roof of the HS? If so, a few hundred dollars worth of Flex Seal (as advertised on TV) will seal it beautifully . This is not rocket science.


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