Above: What a new 1-5 school at Hanaford could look like, including how cars would line up at drop off or pickup. Find more diagrams
Emphasis on Pre K-5 or 1-5 elementary schools with Eldredge sidelined; costs likely to dictate path forward
The School Building Committee revisited three options for the possible future of EG schools in a meeting Tuesday morning (1/31/23). These are not the final options; rather they are the options outlined last fall, before the committee took a break in advance of the election. But while the plans are still just proposals, none of the three options presented Tuesday included Eldredge as a working school building.
The cost of the various options is estimated in the $110 million to $120,000 range in fall 2022 dollars, including $17 million for renovations at the high school*. Here are the options as outlined Tuesday:
- Option A
- New Build at Frenchtown for grades 3-5
- Additions/Renovations at Hanaford for grades K-2
- Additions/Renovations at Meadowbrook for grades PreK-2
- Eldredge closed as a school
- Option B
- New Build at Frenchtown for grades PreK-5
- New Build at Hanaford for grades PreK-5
- Eldredge closed as a school
- Meadowbrook closed as a school
- Option C
- New Build at Frenchtown for grades 1-5
- New Build at Hanaford for grades 1-5
- Renovations at Meadowbrook for grades PreK-K
- Eldredge closed as a school
Here is a link to the slides presented at the Tuesday meeting: Review of Past Work Completed. (Editor’s note: This link was added Thursday, 2/2/23).
Regarding Eldredge, Derek Osterman of project manager Colliers, said it could be adapted to serve another function, perhaps as office space for the school district and the town, or a community meeting and adult education space, or a historic center, among other ideas.
The thinking behind decommissioning Eldredge as a school is that there is no way to refashion the nearly 100-year-old building to meet the needs of students today (much less into the future) without extensive and expensive renovations.
But Osterman said he and other planners got the message that neighborhood schools were important to many in East Greenwich. That’s why, after he went through all three options, he said the one that seemed to fit the needs of the town best could be Option C, which would include new grade 1-5 schools at Frenchtown and Hanaford, a renovation at Meadowbrook to turn it into a PreK-K school for the whole district, and the decommissioning of Eldredge.
Osterman emphasized several times that no matter what “option” the committee, school district and town decided to go with, there will be changes as design concepts are fine tuned.
Resident Justin Cahir questioned how the plans would handle a possible influx of students in coming years, based on the population increase in East Greenwich in recent years (the town went from 13,100 to 14,300 residents between 2010 and 2020, according to the most recent census).
Was it possible that, post-construction, the district could end up with the same crowded schools it’s dealing with now, he asked?
“It’s the obligation [of this planning process] to not set you up for a situation where overcrowding would continue,” said Osterman. “What’s going to be tricky … is that we need to look at the enrollment numbers today because that’s what we know. We then look at projections … about what might happen in the future.”
The aim would be to not under build but also not overbuild, he said, since taxpayers will be on the hook.
“We are one of the few communities in Rhode Island showing growth … and we clearly have to factor that in,” said Town Manager Andy Nota, a member of the building committee. “We’re a small town. We function and look a lot bigger at times,” he said, but in the end, a town of 14,000 people will need to limit what it can do.
Committee members acknowledged there are many in the community who would like to keep Eldredge as a school, some whose children are there now who can walk to school and others who went to Eldredge 30, 40, 50 or 60 years ago and have fond memories.
“When Eldredge was built, that’s what we knew about education,” said Supt. Brian Ricca, noting that just because sixth grade looked a certain way 50 years ago, that’s not a reason it should continue to look that way today. And he pushed back against the idea that “if it was good enough for me, it’s good enough now.”
“We want more than just fine for our students,” said Ricca. “We know there are things we can do to help. It’s very clear this community wants excellence for its schools. This isn’t just my vision.”
He added, “Teachers are no longer the keepers of knowledge… ‘the sage on the stage.’ They are facilitators of learning. Our kids have phones [engaging them] in ways that surpass what we used to do in education…. Our learning spaces need to reflect that.”
After the meeting, Nota spoke of the need to phase the work, noting that most other districts were not looking to redo their whole school district at one time.
“There’s no way the community can afford to do everything at one time,” he said. “That’s the compromise…. Although today you might want to build out a big capacity, you’re going to have trouble building the elementary system and getting the high school renovated at a number that everyone who lives here today can afford and is willing to support in a referendum. It would be a big number.”
That big number could be – if money were no object, Nota said – $200 million.
“Clearly, that’s not possible, even if the town [only] has to pay $100 million of that [with state reimbursements]. The numbers just don’t work for a town of this size. So you have to figure out what the Phase One is. Maybe one new school and some significant work at the other schools. But you’ll know a lot more about projections and enrollment by then too.”
The School Building Committee next meets on Tuesday, Feb. 14, again at 9:30 a.m. At that meeting the panel plans to have lined up other meeting dates, including some in the evening.
*The original version of this story incorrectly stated cost estimates did not include money for renovations at the high school. We regret the error.