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.”