In first meeting since the $150M bond passage, School Building Committee moves forward
Following the passage of the $150 million school construction bond Tuesday, the School Building Committee met Friday to discuss the process of filing stage II of the plan, which must be submitted to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) by Feb. 15, 2024.
After reviewing the stage II submission, RIDE will inform EG officials if the project as described is eligible for certain reimbursements. This process will not result in RIDE telling EG the exact dollar amount the town will be reimbursed, but it’s a strong indication of what will happen upon completion of the project.
During the stage II process, detailed designs will be drafted on all aspects of the project but will not be finalized. While the plans submitted in February won’t be final, RIDE requires these designs be accurate enough so they “can be used to provide dependable cost estimates,” according to RIDE’s website.
“The primary objective is to make sure we secure the 55 percent [reimbursement] from the state,” said Derek Osterman, EG’s representative from the project management firm Colliers. “The reason we are moving so quickly is this is the one and only window to achieve the state funding.” He later explained that while aspects of the projects will “continue to change for the next year plus, what won’t change is we will have a lock on what the state is going to contribute.”
One of the major looming decisions is the scope of work at Hanaford. Voters approved bond language allowing flexibility for either an addition and renovation of the elementary school or the construction of an entirely new building.
“This is where we’re going to start to challenge you,” said Philip Conte, president and CEO of the architecture firm StudioJAED, told members of the School Building Committee. He said members would need to decide between a addition-renovation and a new build at Hanaford “ideally … in the next three weeks or so.”
Multiple committee members, including Town Council President Mark Schwager, voiced concern about making such a large decision quickly without community impact implications, cost estimates, and effects on teaching and learning.
“Will we have more information in a month? Six weeks?” Schwager asked. He continued by inquiring if the town could propose a new building but still have the option to fall back to an add- reno in the stage II filing.
“I would say let’s give the design team the benefit of the doubt and see what they come back to us with to see if you’re more comfortable when we next meet to be closer to making a decision,” said Osterman. He said he and the design team “need a decision” to give to RIDE, but he also said constructing the exact building that they submit to RIDE is “a little bit squishy.”
School Committeeman Tim Munoz and Town Councilor Renu Englehart mentioned concerns from residents who live close to the areas earmarked for construction.
“What happens if there is a site concern?” said Englehart. She later brought up concerns regarding a potential new parking at Frenchtown being too close to residents and wetlands in the area of Hanford.
Tim Munoz added to Englehart’s concerns.
“We have abutters who are very interested in this, as well they should be,” he said. “When will we know exactly where the buildings sit on their respective plats?”
Osterman responded that by Feb. 15, the town will have a “suggested location” but that would be the “first look.”
Resident Bea Lukens, who attended the meeting and lives adjacent to the proposed site where a new Hanaford building could be built (on the current baseball fields), mentioned flooding in the area as a possible concern about placing a school in that location.
The School Committee and Town Council must approve the Stage II plan before the Feb. 15 submittal date.