No firm answers emerged at a special meeting Wednesday between the Town Council and schools, but there was plenty of interest in finding ways to redo the school buildings. The potential of getting more than 50 percent reimbursement was a selling point.
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SCHOOL BUILDINGS THE FOCUS OF
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (SEPT. 1, 2021) – During open houses through the years at Middletown High, Superintendent Rosemarie K. Kraeger said she overhears a lot of nostalgia.
Parents walking through the halls will comment how many things look the same as when they were students at the Valley Road school, particularly the library and classrooms.
Speaking at a special meeting Wednesday night with Town Council in Town Hall, Kraeger said the fond memories were nice, but eye opening too because some of those ex-students graduated 20, 30 years or more.
At its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. in Town Hall, the council is expected to consider a “Letter of Intent” to support a Stage 1 application from the schools to the Rhode Island Department of Education. That letter would offer general backing for improvements to the existing schools, not new building construction. The letter was also not a formal approval to place any school improvement project on the ballot for bonding in November 2022.
No firm plans were rolled out Wednesday night, but Kraeger said ideas could include creating “Learning Centers” in each of the four schools, remodeled science labs at Middletown High and Gaudet Middle schools, overhauling the library at Middletown High as well as opening new space for additional career pathways there.
Figures from project leader Derek Osterman of Colliers Project Management said the schools were eligible for at least 35 percent reimbursement from the state on the final project cost. He said that figure could rise to a 52.5 percent reimbursement from the state if all the necessary targets were met.
“(The library) does (look the same). I saw it the other night (during an open house)…” said council President Paul M. Rodrigues, a 1981 graduate from Middletown High, referring to Kraeger’s comments. “That’s 40 years ago. It’s unbelievable.”
Going back more than a decade, there have been conversations in Middletown about the future of the school buildings and grounds across the community.
To date, the Town has employed a “fix what we have” strategy, where the existing four school structures are repaired and upgraded instead of building new.
Voters have supported this tact, overwhelming approving a $10 million bond in November 2016 to do safety and update work. School officials have said the community got a good bang for its buck, with improvements at each of the facilities. That included sweeping roof work at each of the schools, security improvements, new boilers at Forest Avenue School, heating and ventilation upgrades, among other projects.
According to a preliminary timeline, the schools were expected to file the Stage 1 application with the state Department of Education on Sept. 15. That application would include a facility condition assessment, demographic projections and a statement of interest to move forward with potential projects from the schools.
A Stage 2 application to the state would follow by Feb. 15, 2022. That would include a set of plans from the schools about specifically what was needed. From there, if the will was there with the council and community, a bond would go on the November 2022 ballot before voters.
Rodrigues said based on everything he’s heard and seen, he’s supporting the Stage 1 application.
In coming weeks, Rodrigues said he’d like to see the problems the Building Committee was talking about first-hand. He suggested public tours of the schools, including the problem areas. Referring to the recent open house at Middletown High, Rodrigues said it was tough to see many issues with the shiny floors, clean rooms and sparkling facilities.
“The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost,” Rodrigues said, saying he wasn’t formally supporting anything further without more details. “To me, it’s always what’s nice versus what’s necessary.”
“Thank you for the support,” Kraeger said. “We will be doing this together hand and hand.”
The school Building Committee is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 15 at 3:30 p.m. in the Oliphant administration building for another “Visioning Session” to discuss the school buildings. To reserve a spot, call (401) 849-2122 or message email@example.com via email.