School Construction: Everything Remains on the Table

by | Jan 10, 2023

Although there have been many meetings and plans floated about possible school building projects, the School Building Committee is starting 2023 with no firm plans in place. In other words, as of now there is no plan to build a larger school building behind Frenchtown Elementary to house all third through fifth grade students. Nor is there a plan right now to decommission Eldredge as a school. That doesn’t mean those ideas are dead exactly, but it does mean the building committee decided to pause in late 2022 after a decision in the fall to push back submission of any plan to the state Department of Education (RIDE) to September 2023. 

The first order of business in the new year was taken by the School Committee at their meeting Tuesday night (1/10), when they approved extending the contract with Colliers, the project manager first hired in 2019, through completion of a “Stage 2” submission to RIDE by September.

Members of the building committee met in January* to discuss a path forward with the understanding that buy-in from the public was essential. In a joint memo after that meeting, Town Manager Andy Nota and EGSD Supt. Brian Ricca outlined plans going forward (find it here: Joint Memo – Bond Project), including monthly school department reports to the town on the project and regular visits by School Building Committee members to Town Council meetings to answer questions. The first such visit will take place Jan. 23. 

There is a lot at stake, with the town potentially able to recoup more than 50 percent of overall construction costs from the state if the project meets various state requirements. But cost estimates have been bandied about at $100 million plus – and that full amount would have to be bonded, with reimbursements from the state as the money is spent – making such a project the biggest by far of any yet borne by EG taxpayers. For context, the last large school bond issue, for the construction of a new Cole Middle School in 2008, was for $52 million.

In recognition of the enormity of the ask, town and school officials acknowledge the need to keep the public informed. Actually, members of the Town Council not on the building committee (Mark Schwager and Renu Englehart sit on the committee; Mike Donegan, Caryn Corenthal and Michael Zarrella do not) have expressed a desire to know more about the project. That’s because the Town Council will play an important role. The way it works is, the building committee will present a plan to the School Committee. If that plan is approved, it will then go to the Town Council for approval, after which the Town Council will have to approve a bond referendum to go before voters. In the end, it will be up to the voters.

So, at that Town Council meeting Jan. 23, expect a lot of questions about timeline and dollars. Meanwhile, in the next few weeks Colliers and their team are expected to present two different ways forward, one with grade alignments as they are (K-2; 3-5; 6-8, 9-12) and one with grade alignments in the lower grades shifted (read more HERE).

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated the meeting was in December; it was on Jan. 3, according to the joint memo (find link above). In a Jan. 11 email, Town Manager Nota wrote of the meeting:
“This meeting didn’t trigger the OMA requirements, thus no posting was required.  This was an internal coordination meeting of the two administrations, in which the Building Committee quorum requirements were not triggered as this was not  a meeting of the committee, nor did the quorum requirements of either public body (School Committee or Town Council), thus the OMA is not involved here. The meeting was purely an opportunity for the Superintendent and me to outline for our committee designees what we planned to release in the memorandum that was provided at our formal meetings and posted on Monday and Tuesday of this week.  We were overly open about this interaction in the memorandum to support full disclosure above and beyond the normal requirements.”

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Catherine rodgers
Catherine rodgers
January 11, 2023 9:48 am

I’m not seeing a December Building Oversight Subcommittee meeting recorded on the Secretary of State website. The last one posted is from September 2022.

It is important that residents are made aware of upcoming meetings so that they may attend or speak during public comment. Also, I am concerned that Colliers was, once again, chosen despite its involvement with the damage to homes in the Sarah’s Trace neighborhood.

Catherine Rodgers
Catherine Rodgers
January 13, 2023 7:54 am

If a “buy in from the public is essential,” one would think that an important action such as recommending Colliers would only happen in a meeting that is open to the public.The January 3rd meeting excluded its two community members who are on the Building Subcommittee as well. Mr. Nota’s use of the passive voice (“the School Committee will receive a recommendation to approve”) is also obfuscating as to who voted on this recommendation and when. If these entities want the public to feel confident about school building projects, they should stop meeting one member shy of a quorum and making important recommendations that could have a deleterious effect on their constituents, especially given the well-known controversy attached to Colliers.

January 11, 2023 5:48 pm

How can this group hold an “official ” public meeting without posting an agenda, notice of 48 hours and have the public present? It appears decisions were made at this meeting to approve continuation of a contractor and all members present are town officials (and the representative hired was present). Aren’t all these members of the Building Committee ?

Why was this not a public meeting for residents to attend? The article mentions several times about keeping the “public” informed and aware but this was done in private?

Something is awry! Where is the transparency?

Where is EG News asking questions? Is this a violation of the Open Meetings Act?

January 12, 2023 11:25 am

Please direct me to the Building Committee meeting where this “recommendation” is discussed and approved?

January 12, 2023 12:14 pm

EM..please read the Joint Memo you posted by both the Supt and Town Manager. A recommendation was made by some entity (maybe the Building Committee?) to extend the contract. At what public meeting did this happen, because I can’t find it? Was there a vote?

January 12, 2023 2:09 pm

That is the point….where and when did this recommendation to the School Committee happen? It had to be a meeting and a vote to recommend to the SC, right? It didn’t happen out of thin air or in a backroom somewhere? Aren’t you the bit curious about the transparency?


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