School Committee Weighs $105M Plan, Including New Frenchtown School

by | Mar 31, 2022

Above: The proposal for Frenchtown is to build a new school for all grade 3-5 students behind the present school, then move the field space now in back to the front. 

The School Committee heard the Building Committee’s recommendation to update and expand learning spaces at a virtual meeting Tuesday evening – a plan that includes construction of a new Frenchtown School for all students in grades 3 through 5, and the decommissioning of Eldredge as a school. The estimated cost for the proposal was $105 million. 

Representatives from project manager Colliers, planner Civic, and architect Brewster Thorton said the plan answers the district’s educational and spatial needs and would recoup as much money from the state as possible. Under this plan, the state would reimburse 52 percent of the cost – the basic 35 percent allowed for a district like East Greenwich (more needy districts are in line for as much as 90 percent reimbursement), as well as a variety of incentives (for things like health and safety modifications, new construction, and fewer overall school buildings).

The plan outlines significant changes on the elementary level. Consultants cited four reasons for this: 

  • Older facilities – the district’s four elementary schools are all at least 50 years old (nearly 100 years old for Eldredge)
  • All four schools are over capacity
  • They don’t all have the same educational spaces, so some students are left wanting
  • There is limited collaborative space for what consultants called “21st century learning”

Meadowbrook and Hanaford elementary schools would be renovated and expanded, both to provide additional space and to create collaborative spaces, more open areas for students to work in small groups together. Meadowbrook would remain and Hanaford would become a K through 2 school. Under the plan, Meadowbrook would also get a separate gym – right now, the cafeteria and gym share the same space.

Frenchtown – ironically, the current school is only one in the district that has collaborative spaces – would be the site of a new school for all third through fifth grade students. That site was chosen because there is plenty of room to build a new school behind the original school, alleviating the need to find space for Frenchtown students during construction. (The fields in back of Frenchtown would be moved to the front of the property.)

Eldredge, the oldest school in the district by far and the town’s showpiece for many decades, would be taken offline as a school, used instead for school administration and, potentially, other community needs. This would be done because adding on to that building and creating those desired 21st century learning spaces would be both costly and potentially impossible, the consultants said.

“Eldredge as a structure could absorb a significant amount of dollars and you’d still have a 19th century learning space,” said Nate Ginsburg, one of the architects on the project as well as a member of the town’s Planning Board.

Frenchtown would be a transition between smaller neighborhood schools and the middle school, said Ginsburg. And, because it would accommodate all grades 3-5 students, they would all benefit from the new school, as opposed to having half of the students in a brand new school and the other half in an older school, for instance. As a side benefit, placing the school in the back would alleviate some of the traffic buildup that happens on Frenchtown Road at drop off and pick up, since there will be a longer drive to the school.

A drawing of what a new all-district grades 3-5 Frenchtown School might look like.

The plan included no significant changes for the still relatively new Cole Middle School, opened in 2011, although Chris Spiegel of Colliers said Cole would be part of the final plan. 

The issues at East Greenwich High School include improving “site circulation and safety” (a reference to the only way in and out of the school, via Avenger Drive), enhancing the courtyard and building additional classrooms that would push out into the courtyard, adding new locker rooms, and enlarging the life skills suite (for students with more significant disabilities). The auditorium would also be renovated. 

Members of the School Committee were largely laudatory in terms of the work that has gone into this plan thus far but after lengthy discussion, they were not ready to vote. Approval when it comes will allow the architects to continue their work in preparing a State 1 submission to the state Department of Education (RIDE). 

Queries and Concerns

Committee member Tim Munoz asked about having potentially 650 students at the new school at Frenchtown, noting that would be more students then are at Cole. “To me this is a big strategic decision and I don’t know if we’ve discussed that,” he said, especially in light of the fact that the district will be living with whatever happens for decades to come.

Spiegel, of Colliers, said each grade would represent a separate “learning academy.”

Supt. Alexis Meyer, who as Cole principal was intimately involved with the construction and early years there, said the larger Frenchtown would operate something like Cole has done with its team approach. “The critical aspect will be creating smaller spaces within the larger space,” she said. “The most important thing is the culture in those spaces you create.”

Munoz also asked if a completely new site had been considered for a new school. 

“Having been on the [East Greenwich] Planning Board for seven years, I’ve seen how it’s been so difficult to find new sites for a new highway garage, for instance,” said Ginsberg. “I do not think the town is on the cusp of providing new land.”

Committee member Nicole Bucka said she was happy with the plans in general, particularly the plan for a separate gym at Meadowbrook and the decision to place the new Frenchtown school farther back from Frenchtown Road. But she agreed with Munoz regarding the larger school for grades 3-5, and wanted more staff feedback, especially from teachers and staff of those grades. 

She also asked what had prompted the group to push for Option 4 (the plan they adopted) versus the less expansive (and less expensive) Option 3 (read about those different options HERE). “What was the deciding lever?”

“The big reason was equity,” said Spiegel. “The best example of how one school would be left behind if we did Option 3 is Eldredge. We could bring up the other schools but not really for Eldredge.”

“This is a terrific opportunity without question provided we can do the financing,” said Committee member Gene Quinn, who added a bit later, “Historically, this town built five schools between 1957 and 1970…. We’ve taken on big projects before.”

Committee Chair Anne Musella said she echoed what others had said about wanting to take advantage of “this once-in-a-generation opportunity.” 

But she questioned the wisdom of putting the new school at Frenchtown. “We would be doubling the capacity of the only school that is west of Route 2,” Musella said. Two additional buses, for instance, would be an extra $200,000 added to the district’s annual operating budget, she said, noting the district had a way to cost that scenario out. 

She added, “There’s been a lot of talk, a lot of interest in making the town more walkable, more bikeable. I just want to make sure that’s not overlooked.”

Frenchtown is the only school where nearly all students are either bused or driven, because of its location on busy Frenchtown Road. 

Parent Lillian Picchione said she hoped planning could include mockups for students and families who want to walk or bike to school. “This is a good opportunity to support those concerns,” she said.

Parent Denise Lopez noted that as a graduate of EGHS herself, she well understood the need for renovations. But she wondered if there was a way to stagger the work, so as to avoid unexpected or unintended consequences. 

“The directive to the architects is to be flexible,” said Spiegel. “We don’t want the Stage 2 we submit to just reflect one moment in time.”

Manuel Cordiero of Civic noted the construction cost bonuses from RIDE won’t last forever. “The timeline has to align with the statutory bonuses that are set to sunset. We will be paying attention to all of that.”

Spiegel stressed that the plans are being designed to be flexible, through ups and downs in the number of students. “We can adapt through bubbles,” he said. 

Lorraine Martin asked about the timeline for the project. Right now, the district is hoping to present the Stage 1 application to RIDE in September, with a Stage 2 submission in early 2023. A bond referendum would follow, probably in spring 2023. Cordeiro (of Civic) said it was reasonable to estimate a five-year timeline from there – so completion could be in 2028. 

The School Committee will take up this plan again in April.

Read previous stories about this topic here:

Town Could Seek $100+ Million Bond for School Construction

What Do You Want EG Elementary Schools to Look Like?

Imagining Better School Buildings

EG Growth: Concern About School Capacity, Diversity & Costs

 

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13 Comments

  1. Judi Sheldon

    I cannot imagine not having an “in town” school for kids to walk to. Bussing works…is that in the plan ? Is Eldredge field used for anything anymore? More questions need to be answered before money spent.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      Bussing would be the plan. Regarding Eldredge Field, it would continue to serve as a recreational field for the town. Keep the questions coming – now is the time to get them answered!

      Reply
  2. Margaret

    1. Ms. McNamara by your comment you appear to be cheerleading the project with the keep the questions coming. EG News should stick to just reporting the “news” un biased.

    2. Why should anybody trust the current School Committee and the Town Council with another $105M project after hearing about the Cole $52M project and the damage that occurred to the residents that abut the Cole School with that project. I was speaking with a relative of one of these residents and was told their house was destroyed by the Cole project and was never compensated for the damage. How does this happen? I was also told of the fraud perpetuated upon these people by those in control of the project, the lawyers involved, and how town officials were made aware and refuse to do anything about it! So why would anybody trust these elected officials with more $ (talking big-time money) when they are presented with information about fraud and nothing is done. I am told they are hiding information and it will soon be made public. If your elected officials allow something like this to happen to its own taxpaying residents and protect them. Why would anyone ever trust them to do it again! Who is next! These elected officials can’t be trusted!

    3. Why isn’t EG News reporting on this fraud and the elected officials who are covering this up? I was also told former elected officials have come forward. As an oldtime EG resident I am shocked that this is allowed to happen in our community!

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      If there’s any cheerleading here, it is for residents and taxpayers, so they can understand exactly what is being planned and why. So, yes, I hope people will keep asking questions, including something like, how would new construction affect nearby homeowners?
      Regarding the Cole construction litigation, here’s the archive of stories: https://eastgreenwichnews.com/cole-construction-trial-story-catalogue/ and here’s the link to a related story from May 2021: https://eastgreenwichnews.com/ag-finds-school-committee-violated-open-meetings-law-twice/

      Reply
      • Margaret

        Understood on the cheerleading response, but what I don’t understand from reading the articles on construction trial provided is why would any taxpaying resident have to sue from a town sponsored building project when I am told the town admits it damaged and (as I am told) destroyed homes. Where was the town elected officials and project managers for the town protecting the taxpayer? Why would any EG homeowner have to sue and why didn’t the town elected officials take the side of the damaged homeowners? In Gods green earth how is this possible in a town like East Greenwich? I am told that new information and fraud was recently provided to the town officials and they refuse to do anything? Who would trust any of these elected officials with an enormous amount of money (100+M) when they can’t be trusted to protect the sanctity of a taxpayer’s homes, especially in this RE climate! I haven’t seen any reporting on this new information of fraud and officials who have come forward? Who is being protected and why?

        Reply
        • Elizabeth McNamara

          We have reported everything that was made publicly available. This was a long case and the homeowners were awarded money for nuisance but not for damages and not the amount they believed was warranted. Regarding the new information you mention, that was found by a lawyer hired by the School Committee to be without merit – that’s the article about the open meetings complaint that I linked to.

          Reply
          • Margaret

            Are you saying that these residents were awarded 240K for nuisance (from articles link) and no money for the damages to their homes? Are you serious? What is going on here, how is that possible? How by any standard does this make any sense and where are the elected officials on this? Where is the EG Community? This has to be one of the most outrageous story I have ever heard!

          • Elizabeth McNamara

            Taking a case to court is always risky, which is why most litigation is settled out of court. We do not know if the two sides tried to settle beforehand in this case but the judge threw out the damages part of the homeowners’ case. Why? It had to do with the evidence presented. You should be able to learn more by reading those trial stories.

          • Margaret

            Your missing my point, where were the elected officials and Town lawyers in support of their own residents in court? The Town was in control of the building process? They admit damages to homes and are awarded nusiance intead of actual damages (which I am told are substanial). Either you have damages or you don’t. This is so strange and sounds so RI politics!…and awful for these people. What does the town say and where does this stand?

          • Elizabeth McNamara

            Margaret, I suggest you reach out to the town – Town Manager Andy Nota or any of the town councilors. Or to the School Committee. Here’s a link to the town’s website: http://www.eastgreenwichri.com/. The school district website is egsd.net.

          • Margaret

            Geez Ms. McNamara, you being the editor of EG News I would think that would fall under your jurisdiction?

          • Elizabeth McNamara

            We have looked into the more recent allegations. We could not find anything that suggested wrongdoing.

  3. Fred Mason

    Until the Cole neighbors are properly reimbursed for the big-time damage done to their homes, EG officials cannot be trusted with another multi-million dollar bond to build more schools without damaging adjacent neighborhoods!! Beware, EG taxpayers!!!

    Reply

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