The School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with “option C,” which the School Building Committee recommended via a unanimous vote two weeks prior. All five members in attendance moved the plan to the next phase, allowing Colliers to draw up more specific plans creating further discussion of the project.
Option C seeks to make Frenchtown and Hanaford 1-5 schools, transition Meadowbrook into PreK-K, shutter Eldredge, and allocate money to renovations for the high school. This plan calls for the construction of new buildings at Hanaford and Frenchtown, but renovations at Hanaford are also being considered.. The most recent cost estimate for the plan, which was done in March 2023, is $150 million with the two new schools, $130 million if Hanaford is renovated. The final number is likely to change, however, according to Derek Osterman, project manager at Colliers, since plans up to this point have been conceptual.
This decision comes weeks after the EG Town Council approved a $180 million not-to-exceed bond cap in a 3-2 vote. As reported previously, the Town Council will not finalize the amount that will appear on the bond referendum until early August. This gives Colliers time to work on more concrete designs with clearer cost estimates attached. It also will come after the General Assembly settles the 2024 budget, which could include increases in state reimbursement for school construction in districts like East Greenwich. Right now, the most East Greenwich could get in reimbursement from the state is 52 percent. If the GA approves higher reimbursements of 60 percent or even 65 percent, the Town Council could be willing to support a higher total bond amount because it would essentially allow the schools to build more at the same cost to the town.
Nicole Bucka, vice chair of the School Committee, asked Osterman about public engagement after citing conversations with residents regarding traffic concerns at Hanaford. She stressed “advising those neighbors and residents that if they have any thoughts or concerns in the design phase, they could still communicate some of those thoughts.”
In addition to the recent two public forums and presentations at the PTG meetings and for seniors hosted by the School Building Committee, the town established a website with a timeline of important dates and the ability for community members to engage with officials regarding the project.
“I really hope and need, frankly, the community to continue to participate over the life of the project and the process,” Osterman said. “We are still so early in [making] many decisions. I would be delighted if folks would engage.”
Funds for the High School
One of the aspects of the plan that’s received a great deal of engagement was the $20 million allocated to the high school. Many residents have argued for more funds to be assigned to refurbish the high school.
“We want to make sure, and this is something we heard loud and clear from the community, that the high school is not forgotten,” Osterman said. “Included as part of the recommendation is intended to be quite meaningful improvements to the high school.”
One member of the committee who said she’s looking forward to seeing the plans for the high school renovation was Claire Cecil-Karb.
“Relatively, $20 million feels like a small amount of money,” said Cecil-Karb. “But, it actually is a terrific amount of money toward the high school.”
Committee members Kevin Murphy and William Hangan were absent. The School Committee is set to meet again on May 2 at 6 p.m. at Cole Middle School.