At the second of two public forums on proposed school building construction, school officials took extra time on plans for East Greenwich High School. The move followed last week’s public forum, where members of the public were vocal about their desire to see more resources and dollars poured into EGHS. In all three current construction proposals, the high school would be allocated $20 million for renovations.
Asst. Supt. Michael Podraza showed a slide listing possible alterations to the high school. While none of the alterations had dollar amounts attached to them, they included renovations to athletic areas, the auditorium, and the cafeteria, expanding special education, art spaces, CTE spaces, and replacing the lockers with “recharge” stations.
Some community members, however, still questioned the lack of funding.
“I think the high school is the flagship educational facility of the town,” said EG resident Peter Rodgers (a Town Council candidate in the last election). “It’s not significantly younger than any of the schools that are being discussed.” He then questioned if waiting to renovate the high school at a later date would result in more renovation headaches for the town, not dissimilar to what is being discussed about Eldredge.
“Without question, we want to do better in our high school,” said Supt. Brian Ricca. “But we’re starting at the elementary schools because a) overcrowding and b) the early intervention we want to get to.”
Desire to Preserve Eldredge
Regarding Eldredge Elementary, the town’s oldest and only downtown school building, resident Kim Edge Ambler suggested mothballing a different school in its place. “It’s really interesting to me that no one really cares if we bulldoze Frenchtown. No one’s here because you’re about to tear down Hanaford,” she said. “So when we move to option C, can we trade and kill Meadowbrook for a little more money and keep Eldredge as the preK-K?”
Ricca said there was already a preK-K setup at Meadowbrook and that Meadowbrook made more sense than Eldredge for preK-K.
Some in attendance expressed concern that Eldredge once vacant would stay vacant. Committee members did not make a commitment regarding the future of Eldredge – it would become a town building and, consequently, under the town’s jurisdiction – Derek Osterman, project manager at Colliers, described Eldredge as a “beautiful building.” He added, “I can understand why the community loves it.”
Derek then posed a question to those in attendance: “What could it be if it weren’t a school?”
He stated that if any of the proposed school building plans move forward, Eldredge would remain a school for the next five or six years — allowing EG residents time to decide what the building should be used for.
Hearing the Community
Despite the meeting being the second open forum with public comment, and the several recent PTG sessions, some members of the community said they did not feel like they were being heard.
“Where do we see community engagement reflected in the three plans being pitched?” said two-time school board candidate Peter Carney. Many in the room clapped in response. He referenced community members voicing their desire to keep Eldredge a school, allocating more funds to the high school, and a lack of desire to have a large school at Frenchtown.
“Where we are today is no Eldredge in any option, $20 million for the high school,” he said. “And we have two 500-student schools after pushback about one 600-student school.”
“We are trying to make policy for the greatest good for the greatest number of people in a long-lasting way,” said School Committee and Building Committee member Tim Munoz.
The next step in the process is for the Town Council to vote on a not-to-exceed school bond referendum number during a special session on Monday. As previously reported, this number would not necessarily be the amount put on the ballot for EG residents to vote on in November.
The town website with information on multiple town projects – including the school building timeline – and offers the ability for residents to interact with town officials is scheduled to go live on Friday, March 30, according to Town Manager Andy Nota.
Additionally, residents will soon be able to sign up for walk-throughs of the schools attached to the plans with members of the education leadership team, architect, project manager, and facilities director. Those walk-throughs may be announced as early as next week, according to Munoz.
Read more about the school building plans HERE.