Officials say some project is likely to reach voters again before June
EG residents have until Nov. 7 to vote on the $150 million school construction bond that would see a major grade realignment, at least one new elementary school built with another shuttered, and a townwide tax rate increase. But if the bond fails, town officials say they still want to try to get a school construction project done.
“[The schools] need work no matter what,” said School Committee Chair and co-chair the School Building Committee Alyson Powell. “Doing nothing when we could get this reimbursement would just be the worst.”
Currently, the state will pay for 35 percent of EG’s school construction project. A potential additional 20 percent reimbursement, in five percent increments known as bonus points, will expire in June 2024.
If the bond fails in November, the town could come up with a new or altered plan, possibly with a different dollar amount, and then hold a special referendum before the June 2024 expiration to still be eligible for the up to 20 percent in bonus funds.
The town passed a measure by a 3-2 margin in April asking state legislators to borrow up to $180 million designated for a school construction bond. That not-to-exceed number is still applicable for future school construction bond referendums if the measure in November fails. Therefore, as long as any new or adapted school construction project is under the $180 million cap, the Town Council could put it to a townwide vote without having to go back to the state legislature.
However, creating an entirely new plan would be difficult, according to Town Council President and member of the School Building Committee Mark Schwager, who explained that the current committee took years to create this plan. He said he is concerned about developing an entirely new plan or alternating the existing one “under these time constraints.”
When asked about a specific plan B if this option fails, Schwager said, “Essentially, we reviewed all of those plans previously, and they were rejected for one reason or another. Mostly that they didn’t meet the needs of the community, the district.”
Both Powell and Schwager agreed that if the bond fails, town officials would need to use data from the vote to determine what steps to take.
For instance, Powell explained, if a “huge” number of people in town vote and the bond “overwhelmingly fails,” then it’s clear that “the community does not have an appetite for this project.” However, if the bond fails by a small margin, she said she would encourage members of the School Building Committee to “slightly modify” the plan and “get the message out better.”
Another aspect of coming up with a new plan is that the town needs to submit its stage II to RIDE by February 15, 2024. A stage II plan “requires the development of schematic design documentation that can be used to provide dependable cost estimates,” according to the RIDE website. In other words, they need to submit very detailed construction plans that could be difficult to pull together for a new proposal.
Schwager is convinced the current proposal is the right one for this moment.
“If you vote the bond down, the needs are still there, and they’re going to be funded at some point and they’re going to be much more expensive,” he said. “The needs don’t go away,” but part of “the reimbursement goes away.”
You can find all our stories on the school construction plan HERE.