When something seems too good to be true, it’s wise to wait a little bit and feel out the situation for some more information – basically to make sure you’re not being taken for a fool.
But in the case of the bid to occupy the old Aldrich Middle School building and turn it into a bi-lingual charter school by the International Charter School of Pawtucket, the Warwick City Council, by holding the bid indefinitely while awaiting “more information,” actually seems to be probing for a flaw where there really isn’t one.
These are the facts.
The Aldrich Building site is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, so the potential uses for the property were limited by the Warwick Planning Department so as to not negatively impact traffic any further – no big box stores allowed in the shadow of an existing Walmart, for one.
The Aldrich property was assessed by Peter M. Scotti & Associates as being worth approximately $2,535,000. That same group also concluded that the best possible future use of the property would be a school.
The Planning Department concurred, adding a specific provision to the RFP asking that potential bidders do whatever was possible to preserve as much of the existing architecture as possible – which is certainly prettier than your run-of-the-mill, huge rectangular buildings that are so popular with modern designers.
The city received a grand total of one, singular bid – from the International Charter School. They offered to buy the property for $1.9 million outright and put $6.9 million of their own money into renovating the existing building and making it as nice as their undoubtedly tight budget would allow. They also offered to pay $70,000 a year through a payment in lieu of taxes program – something they absolutely are not required to do.
The value of that $70,000 a year is equivalent to the tax income of a commercial business worth $2,305,665, squarely in the ballpark of the city’s assessed value – and especially generous considering, again, that a PILOT program is completely voluntary by the school. Since the school has offered to pay this PILOT in perpetuity throughout its occupation of the building, and the school director made it clear that they intend to stay, the difference in assessed value would be made up in just a few years anyway.
Ah, but what about the damage the charter school would cause to Warwick Public Schools? What would happen if there was a wholesale departure from Warwick schools to ICS? State funding for those students would go to ICS that is also a public school.
Nope. Not in this case, at least. And there’s contract language on the table to ensure that. The International Charter School is on board with capping the number of Warwick student who can attend the charter each year at five – yes – as in one more than four and one less than six. That will not cause any discernible difference to the Warwick schools.
To belabor that point even further, the charter school has been operational for 17 years of enrollment, and they have received a grand total of 20 applications from students located in Warwick – out of more than 6,500 total applications in that time frame.
This is a good deal – almost too good to be true – for a building that nobody wants to see knocked down, and is inarguably fitted for a school use. The city is fortunate to have received it, as the school even has a noble mission of trying to empower bilingual students in the community. It is a good deal, let’s not lose it for an overabundance of unnecessary caution.