The City Council unanimously approved Monday a second release in school bonds that will enable the district to carry forward its program to address long neglected school building repairs and improvements.
The action came with virtually no discussion, although School Superintendent Philip Thornton was armed with four-page handouts for the council and audience detailing what it has been able to accomplish with the initial release of $6.1 million of the $40 million bond approved by voters in 2018 as well as what’s planned this year.
The thorough presentation, however, was not for naught.
“[For] the first draw down on the bond that we had approved for the school department, we had been very insistent on getting updated reports and how they were doing on time and on budget,” Councilman Edgar Ladouceur said. “[The School Committee] did comply with that.”
Thornton said the first round of improvements are under budget and on time.
With the release of $6.8 million for the 2020-21 year the department will install seven fire alarms, which will complete alarm requirements across all public schools. The expected total for the alarms amounts to more than $815,000 across seven schools. Five of the six schools that need asbestos abatement will receive that service in the coming year. Toll Gate High School is the only school not slated for asbestos abatement by the end of the 2020-21 school year, but is projected to be finished in the summer of 2021 going into 2022.
Five schools will receive Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) construction projects, leaving 13 projects to be completed later. The ADA renovations are expected to amount to over $2.5 million in upgrades. Playground upgrades that Thornton said should be ADA-compliant are projected to cost just over $1 million.
“Most [playgrounds] aren’t ADA accessible,” Thornton said. “Playgrounds should be accessible for all kids.”
Roof repairs at Hoxsie, Lippitt, Norwood and Robertson Schools, projected at more than $3 million, round out improvements slated for 2020-21.
“A lot of the roofs have a life of 25 years – they call it 'useful life,’” Thornton said. “These roofs are 40 years old. They're leaking.”
The total construction cost is set at $8,192,237. With soft costs, which include architecture and engineering plans as well as contingency, the total is $9,836,403. But the city will be paying less.
In its breakdown of the work the document reads, “Under this program, RIDE will direct pay invoices [at a 35%/65% split], thereby reducing a community’s need to incur bond indebtedness.”
The state reimbursement reduces the School Committee’s request to $6,854,403. The previous bond for the first round of projects was approved and the committee was awarded $6.1 million.
The demand for upgrades across all school systems in Warwick is needed, Thornton said. He added that receiving a score of 65 or more on the Jacobs report, a system that grades state schools, means that the school is beyond trying to repair. He said that Pilgrim High School was given a 59.
As there is talk of a new high school, which is being analyzed by consultants, projects at Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools are currently on hold.
One problem Thornton has found across many schools in the state is that the funding doesn’t always go where it’s needed.
“What's happening around Rhode Island, budgets are increasingly tight,” Thornton said. “When money is tight, you take money from maintenance to fix your buildings and put it toward your budget. But really, schools should, every year, put money in the budget for maintenance upkeep.”