Town Council and School Committee members talk Thursday about school regionalization and a $235 million bond for a new middle-high school and combined elementary school. There was consensus a lot of work needs to be done, but they're up to the task.
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MIDDLETOWN WILL BE READY IF SCHOOL REGIONALIZATION, BOND APPROVED IN NOVEMBER
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (JUNE 9, 2022) – If voters approve school regionalization with Newport on Election Day, Middletown will be ready to roll.
During a special joint Town Council-School Committee session Thursday night in Town Hall, Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said the framework was already being put in place to hit the ground running after Nov. 8 — should everything be okayed.
“Depending on the outcome of the voters, we would immediately start the projects…” Brown said. “There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to stay on the timeline.”
It’s the first time the council and School Committee have met publicly to go over regionalization and a potential $235 million bond to build new middle-high school and combined elementary school.
As part of a wide-ranging conversation in the council chambers, there were questions about everything from how labor contracts work to the educational value of regionalization, the status of enabling legislation before the General Assembly to how votes took place and other related issues.
Councilwoman Terri Flynn said there was still much about regionalization and the school bond that hadn’t been answered, items that need clarity like what would educational benefits from the arrangement be. In response, other council members agreed, saying those details were in the process of being flushed out now.
If it was up to Councilwoman Barbara A. VonVillas, she’d like to have all the answers to those questions and more finalized by early September so she and other backers could get out and sell the proposal to voters.
Council Vice President Thomas P. Welch III said given the amount of work ahead, there were places where complete specificity would be difficult to achieve before Nov. 8, but everyone involved would do their best.
To council President Paul M. Rodrigues, the average in person in Middletown would have two questions — how much is the project going to cost and how does it benefit the kids?
“It’s not just the facts of regionalization, whether it’s educational or financial, it’s ‘This is what may happen if it doesn’t pass.’ That’s just as important,” Rodrigues said. “‘Do I want to go this route and it’s going to cost this much and we’re going to Band-Aid the schools and we’re going to have to come back and ask for another $80 million, $100 million in five to 10 years to fix the elementary schools?’ or ‘Do I want to okay this now?’ It’s much more than regionalization.”
Councilman Dennis Turano said he’d like to see some flexibility with the new school buildings, should they be approved by voters.
“We’d like to get at least 60 years out of these buildings…” Turano said. “We don’t know what education will look like in 60 years.”
Earlier this week, the council appointed VonVillas to a new Regionalization Steering Committee tasked with guiding the regionalization effort. She joined Brown, school Superintendent Rosemarie K. Kraeger and School Committee Chairwoman Theresa Spengler.
From Newport, City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr., school Superintendent Coleen Burns Jermain, City Council Vice Chairwoman Lynn Underwood Ceglie and School Committeewoman Rebecca Bolan were named to the Steering Committee.
The aim of the committee is to streamline decision making around regionalization and make sure every question is answered well in advance of Election Day, when voters are expected to cast their ballots on the issue in both communities.
Middletown residents are also expected to be asked to support a $235 million bond for the construction of a new joint middle-high school and combined elementary school. Because of significant reimbursements offered by the state, Middletown taxpayers will pay about $47 million of that total over 20 years, or about 20 percent of the total project cost.
To help spread the word about regionalization and answer questions, several joint informational forums are planned later this month. In-person sessions are slated for June 20 at 3:30-5:30 pm and 6-8 pm in the Wyndham Newport Hotel at 240 Aquidneck Ave., Middletown. There are also virtual meetings planned for June 21 in English and June 22 in Spanish. Both of those sessions are slated for 6-8 pm and links will be posted at middletown-newport.us online in coming days.
The steering committee is expected to meet at least weekly to go over the latest developments to join Newport and Middletown schools under one School Committee, Finance Committee and administration.
All told, there will be five subcommittees reporting back to the steering committee to help provide regular information, data and feedback. Those are Education, Communications, Website, Outreach and Finance. Middletown also has a very active School Building Committee to help guide the design, layout and function of the new middle-high school and combined elementary school.
At a session last week, members of the volunteer School Building Committee heard from consultants DBVW of Providence, HMFH Architects, Colliers International and Design Civic.
The consultants outlined all the exciting possibilities for the new school buildings in Middletown. Natural lighting, open and inviting learning spaces, safe, secure and state-of-the-art 21st century facilities were among the items that led that list.
That’s a fraction of the $190 million plus in “Band-Aid” repairs the schools now need to keep the 60- to 70-year-old buildings operational for another 10 or 20 years.
In March, the Rhode Island Department of Education said if the town regionalized school systems with Newport, Middletown could get 80.5 percent reimbursement on any new school construction. So instead of putting “Band-Aids” on its 60- and 70-year-old buildings, the town could have all new state-of-the-art facilities for less than $50 million.
According to designs from DBVW Colliers International, a new combined high school-middle school would be built at the former Starlight Drive-In property now multi-use fields at 1225 Aquidneck Ave. next to Gaudet Middle School.
Students in grades six through eight would go to classes in one part of the building completely separate from the high school grades nine through 12. Initial planning showed the building would share a 500-600 seat auditorium, a cafeteria and library media center. Importantly, middle and high school students would not use those spaces together.
The combined elementary school would be constructed on part of the existing footprint of Middletown High at 120 Valley Road. Eventually, both Aquidneck and Forest Avenue elementary schools would close after the new combined elementary school was complete. A pre-kindergarten center for Middletown youngsters will be built on the new elementary school campus too, creating a synergy around early childhood education.
The way the school construction project is phased, temporary trailers would not be needed. Construction on the combined high school-middle school would come first, with students staying in the existing buildings until work wrapped up there. Then, building would begin at the Valley Road campus for the new elementary school, with the Aquidneck and Forest Avenue schools staying in service until they were no longer needed.
A formal decision from the Middletown council about whether to place the items on the Election Day ballot won’t be made until the summer. In order to make the Nov. 8 deadline, Middletown officials have said the Town Council needs to make that decision no later than its Aug. 1 meeting to get the items before voters.
The School Building Committee needs to have a Stage II design for the new schools to RIDE no later than February 23, 2023. Should voters approve the bond and regionalization, the construction of the new schools must be finished no later than November 2027.
Document Link: https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/4987/NYCU-Regionalization