Town Council Approves $150 School Bond 3-2

by | Aug 15, 2023

Above: Town Council gets down to brass tacks on the school bond referendum number Tuesday night. 

Now it’s up to voters to decide in November

The East Greenwich Town Council voted 3-2 to put a $150 million bond on the November ballot for a school construction project. The two council members who voted against the measure were Michael Zarrella and Renu Englehart, who favored a bond number of $130 million.

The project passed by the School Committee in April calls for a realignment of grades in the town, making Frenchtown and Hanaford 1-5, Pre-K/K at Meadowbrook, shuttering Eldredge, and allocating money for renovations at the high school. The plan outlines a completely new building at Frenchtown and a new building or an addition-and-renovation option at Hanaford.

The $150 Million Number

“Build it now or build it later and pay more,” said Town Council President Mark Schwager, who expressed early in Tuesday night’s meeting that he favored a $150 million bond. “We know there is a temporary opportunity for East Greenwich to be reimbursed by the state.”

This refers to the Rhode Island Department of Education’s school construction initiative that covers 35 percent of East Greenwich’s cost related to the plan with up to an additional 20 percent bonuses at 5 percent chunks. That initiative expires in 2024.

One councilmember who initially said she would not go north of $140 million but ultimately voted in favor of the $150 million bond was Caryn Corenthal, who said, “The schools need work,” but “I’m concerned we’re asking too much from our taxpayers.” She highlighted that while everyone’s taxes would go up, the difference in taxes for an average home in EG between the $130, $140, and $150 million price was under a hundred dollars. “Now is the time to strike,” she said.

Councilmember Englehart, who, along with Schwager, sits on the School Building Committee, said she recognized there is “need” at the elementary level, referring to “decades of deferred maintenance,” but highlighted her concern with “the affordability” of the proposed bond. She said she also feared building these schools will create a “huge influx of families,” creating a “lot of need on the town side,” and she advised the council to think about “balancing those needs.” 

“I don’t think kids need to go to the Taj Mahal,” Zarrella said. “I think they need to go to a room that’s big enough for them to learn in. Who the teacher is has a lot more to do with their education than the building they’re in.”

What the bond will say

In addition to passing the $150 million number for residents to vote on, the council voted on language for the referendum that left flexibility for a new building or addition-and-renovation at Hanaford. 

Members debated having specific language and even dollar amounts on the bill, so voters would know exactly what they were getting versus leaving the wording flexible, which would allow for things like unexpected changes in cost or needs as the project develops. 

Zarrella and Englehart, who voted against the proposal, said they wanted specific language so the voters know exactly what they’re getting. Town Council Vice President Donegan and Schwager countered that point by arguing that it limits those engineering the buildings and eventually constructing them.

In addition, Schwager said by leaving the language more flexible, “you open the door to the opportunity for a new build at Hanaford and more money at the high school.” This is the concept that decisions can be made later by the School Building Committee and Town Council with knowledge of construction costs and with fully engineered plans that might be different than the estimates provided by Colliers. 

If the bond passes in November, phase two of the plan would be due to RIDE in February, which “requires the development of schematic design documentation that can be used to provide dependable cost estimates,” according to information on RIDE’s website.

Despite Englehart and Zarrella voting against this plan, they both encouraged residents to vote in favor of the referendum in November.

“I think this is good for the town,” Zarrella said. “I still want to see people vote for this.” He went on to say that he recognizes the school buildings need renovating and “passing the bond is more important than anything else.”

“I stand by my $130 million,” Englehart said, but agreed with Zarrella that she hopes residents pass the bond.

With the bond number and referendum language now approved, the voters will decide in November if the town will borrow $150 million and move forward with this school construction plan.

You can read all of our coverage on the school construction plans HERE.

Value the news you get here on East Greenwich News? As a 501-c3, we depend on reader support. Become a sustaining (monthly) donor or make a one-time donation! Click on the Donate button below or send a check to EG News, 18 Prospect St., East Greenwich, RI 02818. Thanks.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
August 16, 2023 7:25 am

And they shutter the best built and most solid school building in town (Eldredge).
When will they learn.

caryn corenthal
August 16, 2023 10:51 am
Reply to  bruce

Let me correct the record. The building committee looked into keeping Eldredge as a school. It was not up to code and would cost too much money to fix. Even if we put the money into fixing it it would only house 150 kids due to the size and Rhode Island Department of Regulations.

August 17, 2023 10:27 am

Not enough $$ for the High School which should be priority #1. Vote No! The politicians are not listening! Something is wrong here!

Renu Englehart
Renu Englehart
August 16, 2023 8:28 am

My choice of the $130M bond was due to weeks of meetings during the School Building Committee in which the choice was an add/reno at Hanaford and rebuild of Frenchtown along with the grade realignment. The $130M bond also allowed for $20M to go the high school for renovations.

Our council had a lively debate over this and while I did not vote along with the majority, I do recognize the importance of this conversation in the public forum and will campaign for the bond. The schools are a key factor why families move to EG and why many (including my husband and myself) remain here due to the connections made during our kids’ school years. I would urge that residents reach out to the School Committee members to discuss what exactly the bond will entail for the students and the schools overall.

August 16, 2023 11:46 am

They also decided against providing an educational section on the ballot to include more relevant facts, such as the 25% tax rate increase required to pay for this.

Heather Larkin
Heather Larkin
August 16, 2023 1:30 pm

Renu Englehart is correct to caution about increased services. After the new Cole opened there was a giant influx of new student registrations. Particularly EG kids who had been going to private schools previously. Victor Mercurio said it at the time “If you build it, they will come”!
I hope the School Committee/Building Committee remember this as the process moves along.

Mary Ward
Mary Ward
August 16, 2023 3:18 pm

I agree with the $150M bond number Vs the $130M based solely on the minimal impact to property taxes of an additional +/-$100/year. The reality is it provides for more reimbursement from the state & EG gets so little in the way of state contributions, we’d be foolish to turn our backs on the maximum opportunity for reimbursement. The extra $20M provides for a cushion should costs increase by the time ground breaks on the project & we’d be foolish to end up having to cut items like the AC we cut from the Cole new build over lack of funds. We now need to pressure the school committee to tightly manage the building process & seek to actively lower costs of the building project whatever way we can. One issue I see is paying the project management as a % of project costs. Compensation should be tied to coming in ahead of schedule and under budget, not simply a % of total costs where the incentive is in conflict with what our goals should be. We should also consider contracting with out of state building contractors if competition among RI’s limited number of contractors causes inflation & delays due to so many districts building at the same time. Just because we are bonding for $150M doesn’t mean we actually have to spend that amount but unless the project is aggressively managed, that’s where it will end up. Hope we use the opportunity to seek cost efficient & creative developers Vs same old same old max budget feeders

Mike S
Mike S
August 17, 2023 10:50 am
Reply to  Mary Ward

Lets hire Gilbane again so they can destroy all the homes surounding these projects, while the town just abandons them. Isn’t Collier the same firm involved in the damaged to these homes? I haven’t heard one word about protecting surrounding properties on these propsed projects. Will history repeat itself?!

Susan Aitcheson
Susan Aitcheson
August 16, 2023 4:39 pm

The school improvements are badly needed and will provide a significant benefit to residents. I will be supporting efforts to approve this bond.

August 16, 2023 9:25 pm

Can someone inform the council member it’s Eldredge School……..

Pat R
Pat R
August 19, 2023 12:40 pm

I’m sorry to hear about Eldredge being closed and I hope the town can find a good use for it. I’d hate to see it torn down…😕

C Corenthal
August 19, 2023 9:21 pm
Reply to  Pat R

Hi, there is no plan to tear it down. The town will use it for another purpose.

August 20, 2023 6:24 am
Reply to  Pat R

$150 million now ….

What’s it going to be a year later when this project is over budget and behind schedule?

Once you let them open your wallets they won’t stop until our walkable, neighborhood, school has truly been turned into more affordable housing (we need 10%!)

C Corenthal
August 20, 2023 9:49 pm
Reply to  Joe

Let me correct the record. There is no plan to turn Eldredge School into affordable housing. Please stop spreading that false rumor.


Newsletter Sign Up

* indicates required


Latest Streaming