By Justin Cahir
Like many of you, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the upcoming school bond vote. I am frankly still undecided. I believe our schools are in desperate need of repair, and the opportunity for an additional 20 percent in bonus incentives, or $30M, is tough to pass up. I am in no position to tell any neighbor how to vote as every family’s financial situation and opinion differ. However, I believe this is an incredibly important decision that everyone should be getting out to vote on.
To do that responsibly, I feel there are still several concerns that have not been addressed. These are important questions which we should have been provided answers to so that we, as a town, can make an informed decision on election day.
- Traffic studies around a huge new Frenchtown school are still “developing” according to our town officials. This should have been made a priority and explained clearly, as this will touch each one of us daily.
- We have been met with silence when inquiring about how neighborhoods near the construction sites will be protected from damage. Colliers, the firm leading the design of this project, has said “the builders are insured.” The lack of details or response is simply not acceptable. If they are unable to speak to this now, how will they handle it if our neighbors’ properties are damaged due to the construction? I’m sure our neighbors in Sarah’s Trace were told “the builders are insured” when construction started at Cole. If you’re not familiar with that debacle, please read this piece detailing the ordeal by a neighbor who lived through it. (https://eastgreenwichnews.com/letter-to-the-editor-we-want-town-to-do-right-thing/)
- When asked, Colliers stated the sketches of EGHS renovations shared at the community forums will likely cost more than the $20M earmarked. Will there be enough money left for EGHS after elementary spending? How can the project team assure us?
- Colliers admitted that after these schools are built, maintenance costs will be higher than they currently are. If we can’t currently afford to update our schools now, how do we plan to pay the higher maintenance costs of the new buildings?
- While there are lots of great ideas about what to do with an empty Eldredge, nothing has been decided. Shouldn’t we all, and especially residents on the Hill, know the future of that space and how the town plans to pay for the ongoing maintenance of whatever replaces the school?
It concerns me that these questions have been raised by many residents, without receiving adequate answers. It is also very concerning that both our Town Council President and School Committee Chair admitted in this opinion piece (https://eastgreenwichnews.com/what-if-school-construction-bond-fails/) that only IF the bond vote fails will they investigate alternative plans, and even then, only if the bond fails by a large margin. The truth is, they should have been offering different proposals specific to community feedback over the past two years while this bond has been an active discussion. Where were the cost proposals with Eldredge remaining online? Where were the proposals for only renovations for all schools? Where were the proposals for allocating a significant portion of the money to the high school? There are other options, this is not a “now or never” scenario like many elected officials may be stating.
Regardless of your thoughts on this bond, please don’t allow others to speak for you on Election Day. I encourage everyone to come out and vote.
Justin Cahir lives in East Greenwich and ran for School Committee in 2022.