Proposals Illustrate Challenges of Renovating Eldredge

by | Feb 14, 2023

Above: A diagram of Eldredge with additions (plan 4) – one of the ideas that would retain Eldredge as a school.

The East Greenwich School Building Committee met Tuesday morning to discuss updated information on the estimated $100 million-plus proposed school construction plans. While none of the three plans have been approved, all would include closing Eldredge Elementary School with the expectation to repurpose the historic building. The focus of the meeting was to address the possibility of including Eldredge in the renovating process.

“No decision has been made,” said Derek Osterman, project manager at Colliers, when discussing the possibility of Eldredge closing. “Longer term, perhaps, Eldredge may not be well suited to serve elementary ed.” He cited the age of the building and the already overcrowded classrooms as stumbling blocks not only now but in the future. 

Osterman cited four hypothetical plans to address why it would be challenging to include Eldredge in construction plans. “We came up with a series of four concepts and tried to test them and see what was possible,” he said. 

Plan 1

The first plan would be a new build on the existing field. Students could still attend school while construction occurred, and it would maximize the site area. However, he mentioned that it would require demolishing the historic building, would reduce outdoor community space, and might create traffic issues.

“We’re not certain if it’s even buildable in terms of the field down below,” Osterman said. “But if it were to be buildable, it would be the simplest.”

 Plans 2 and 4

The second and fourth plans would call for additions to the existing building. While it is possible to add something “sensitively,” said Osterman, “It could not be sensitively done affordably.”

To this point, Mark Schwager, EG Town Council president, said, “I’ve heard from members of the community that, ‘Well, Brown University has 300-year-old buildings, why can’t we add an architecturally appropriate addition?’” 

“We don’t have their endowment,” said Alyson Powell, vice chair of the EG School Committee.

In addition to the cost of creating attachments to the historic building, Eldredge itself would have to be vacated at times for construction purposes, and the additions may be out of keeping with the historical nature of the building.

Plan 3

The third suggested plan would be to renovate the historic building itself, with no additions.

“In order to eliminate the overcrowding problem and develop [modern] classrooms … We end up with a building, from the interior, that is in some ways gutted,” Osterman said. “We only end up being able to provide one class per grade in the school.”

 Additionally, Osterman noted taking this project on would likely be so costly it would jeopardize the renovation budget at the other elementary schools. 

Leave As Is?

 After the presentation, Schwager floated a hypothetical. What if a parent says their children had a good experience at Eldredge? “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Schwager said. “Why don’t we just leave Eldredge as it is?”

“We know more about education than we did one generation ago,” said Supt. Brian Ricca. “Eldredge was built in the 1920s; best practice in education in the 1920s pales compared to best practice in education in 2023. As a dad, I want more than ‘fine’ for my own children when I send them to school; so as the superintendent of schools in East Greenwich, I want more than ‘fine’ for our EG students.” 

Ricca added, “I want better educational equity for all students in East Greenwich to honor our strategic plan, All Means All.”

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Peter Carney
Peter Carney
February 15, 2023 5:07 pm

Has EG News heard of a dollar amount associated with any of these Eldredge options? For example, option 4…what would the projected cost be and how many students would that accommodate? These details would be helpful for the community.

Alan Clarke
Alan Clarke
February 16, 2023 11:03 am

EGN: “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Schwager said. “Why don’t we just leave Eldredge as it is?”

EGN: “We know more about education than we did one generation ago,” said Supt. Brian Ricca. “Eldredge was built in the 1920s; best practice in education in the 1920s pales compared to best practice in education in 2023. As a dad, I want more than ‘fine’ for my own children when I send them to school; so as the superintendent of schools in East Greenwich, I want more than ‘fine’ for our EG students.”

EGN: Ricca added, “I want better educational equity for all students in East Greenwich to honor our strategic plan, All Means All.”

Well that’s all fine and good, Mr. Ricca. We seem to know less about basic reality, however. Being a kid hasn’t changed all that much. It hasn’t when they have a chance to be one, that is. Past year’s kids 6-12 were tossed out of the house, with a smile, and told not to return “until the lights come on!” We were out and about. We learned things all day long, in school and out of school. You turn education of elementary school kids into automatons with present methods. They are in the house playing videos—they are not out making friends and getting along with them, learning how to cope with bullies, being amazed by frogs and sticky stuff in a factory that tastes good. You learned how to not get hit by trains and build forts and wagons. You learned how to do things with your hands, use tools. In school, your education was limited to learning how to read and write, do math. These are tools they will need all their lives and they need to learn them early. It doesn’t hurt to add in a bit of reality like some real history and how things actually work in the world. More specializing can come later but they need that basic stuff before age 12, they need it for a solid foundation. They do not need to decide whether they want to be a boy or a girl, they do not need the odd stuff that seems to be cropping up in schools around the country. For what they need in that age group is to have respectable teachers and teachers they can respect. They need teachers who teach what they will need later, in high school and college… or schools where they learn something useful – MIT perhaps. Or locally, NEIT. They need to be ready for that and they need the first 12 years to learn how to get along with just plain living.

I have a chart for the years 2000-2019. Since 2000, in the U.S., there has been an increase of 7.6% of students, and increase of 8.7% teachers, and a whopping 87.6% increase in district administrators. I guess that’s why school administrations have been gobbling up any office space they can find in town. (Once even renting space in Warwick.) (Source for chart: Center for Education Statistics, U. S. Department of Education.) If all the teachers and students were told to leave the building(s), how many people would still be inside?

And one more thing: Eldredge is not the only 100-year-old school building in the state. Most haven’t had the loving care that Eldredge has had. Most of them are in less wealthy per capita cities and towns, in less wealthy neighborhoods. Is East Greenwich grabbing a bigger piece of the pie than it deserves, leaving other districts to deal with the old buildings such as EG doesn’t want any longer? How much money is there available after the Covid handouts run out? How big will this town’s piece of the pie be, in the end? Are we diverse enough for our share?

Kimberly M Edge Ambler
Kimberly M Edge Ambler
February 16, 2023 11:06 am

Have to echo Peter here. It would be helpful to learn about and understand the hard numbers to help guide decisions.

February 17, 2023 8:15 am

I’ve always been a believer that quality of education comes from those teaching and implementing the education itself. That is what we should be focusing on. The quality of our teachers. A building doesn’t need to be new and state is the art for them to get a great education. Eldredge is an exceptional school in the East Greenwich school district. We do not want bigger k-5 schools that combine 2 existing schools together. Absolutely not. If you made it more of smaller neighborhood k-5, that would be great.

EG homeowners pay a lot in taxes. It’s a large sum per household. Use the money to update Eldredge or add buildings to the site. By no means should it be taken away completely. The committee talkes about EG district not having any real estate but yet want to completely do away with a site in town that is loved makes zero sense. Get another company on board that might offer new perspectives.

February 17, 2023 3:02 pm

The reluctance of this building committee to hold meetings when working residents who will pay for this proposed project are available (after work for most) is unacceptable. They continue to say they want public input but limit participation from taxpayers. At the beginning of this process, you could ask any questions and now you are limited to speak or ask questions at meetings as this firm Colliers tries to steer toward the most complex and expensive proposals, obviously where they will make the most money. They hire a PR firm to push their agenda. How come residents can’t get the amount on keeping Eldridge. All we hear is it is too outdated, expensive…what is the ACTUAL cost so we the taxpayers can make up our own minds? Why the secrecy? Just give us the facts and amount! This is exactly why politicians can’t be trusted. Stop treating us like elementary students and like those who are going to “possibly” pay if voters approve through referendum for these proposals.

I have previously contacted Alyson Powell, now the chair of the SC, before the election on the damage done to a resident family, I personally know that resulted in the destruction of their home on Sarah’s Trace. I never received an adequate answer to what actually transpired and how this could happen in our community. These people were never compensated for damages to their homes, and I never get a satisfactory answer from any School Committee members or any elected officials. If you think this can’t happen again, you are naive.

Now I am told that this firm Colliers is basically the same firm involved in the damage to these homes and they are rehired? What? This is ludicrous! How can anybody trust this firm without answers from the firm and our own elected officials on all these unanswered questions.

This nonsense has to stop before any money is spent, we need facts and answers. Where is the transparency from those in charge?

February 18, 2023 7:07 am

A few thoughts –
-Eldredge is a wonderful school not BECAUSE of the building but despite it. Move this educators and kids to another location, and the greatness remains.

-For people who want meetings at a reasonable time, I believe there’s one being held on a Saturday at Felicia’s from 9am-11am.

February 18, 2023 9:39 am
Reply to  Sarah

Can you please tell us the date of that Saturday meeting? Would love to attend

February 19, 2023 7:57 am
Reply to  Sarah

Are you telling me that the Building Committee is holding an official public meeting at Felicia’s on a Saturday? One meeting? You can’t be serious! This is a doomed project!

Elizabeth McNamara
February 19, 2023 2:38 pm
Reply to  marge

Marge, there was no official meeting. According to one of the officials who was at Felicia’s Saturday (2/18) morning – School Committeeman Tim Munoz – it was a casual event with Town Councilor Renu Englehart and him (they both sit on the School Building Committee) in attendance to field any questions and/or concerns about the planning process. Munoz did say the building committee will be holding four public forums in March (all at night, I believe) for residents and the dates/times for those sessions should be made public soon.

Shaun Wallace
Shaun Wallace
February 21, 2023 12:08 pm

I completely agree with Peter. At least then, citizens can make fully formed views based on facts.

Plans 2 and 4 make the most sense.

For elementary schools, it makes the most sense to go back to a K-5 model, so parents do not have to choose to leave one kid at school late to pick another up on time. (or early pick-up -> on-time pick-up)

Keeping Eldredge as a symbol of the community and bringing people downtown is good for businesses and the town alike. Having three K-5 Elementary schools will also eliminate the ridiculous school district lines and allow students to have shorter commutes to school, meaning more time at home and sleeping. Even if Eldredge has fewer total students than the other 1–2 schools, how would that be a problem?

If Eldredge is de-commissioned, is there a sunk cost to the town and taxpayers to update the building anyways? Is that taken into account?

Peter carney
Peter carney
February 22, 2023 2:20 pm
Reply to  Shaun Wallace

Regarding your question Shaun, per an assessment done within the past 3 years, Eldredge does need deferred maintenance repairs to secure its future use no matter what the future holds. That number was about $15M in pre-2022/2023 inflation numbers, if I recall correctly. That is a lot of money for the Town of EG which has about $30-$35M each year to operate the non-school department needs of the town. With no concrete plan for these eventual costs if they are not included in the school bond / building project, I do worry that Eldredge will be in the hands of a developer not long after school kids stop walking through it’s doors (5-6 years from now). All the town officials saying that this won’t happen are unlikely to be the decision makers on this issue 6+ years from now.

February 22, 2023 4:58 pm

Eldredge should be used for town uses, CTE (career-tech), offices, etc. The building is too old and not worth the repairs to get it up to code. The field should be turned into parking to help with the parking issue in town too. We can move the field elsewhere with ease.


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