In coming weeks, the School Building Committee is taking an even more active roll in designing three new proposed schools and helping push a $235 million bond expected to be before Middletown voters on Election Day. #MiddletownRI
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SCHOOL BUILDING COMMITTEE STEPPING UP
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (JULY 6, 2022) – The town is relaunching its School Building Committee.
With the scope of the volunteer group’s work expanding significantly because of plans to build three new schools, the town announced late this week it was going out to bid again for Owner’s Project Manager services.
The item was one of several broached last week during an informal session with the Building Committee from the upstairs conference room at Town Hall.
Moving forward, Building Committee members and town staff agreed the construction project isn’t just about saving money, but providing state-of-the-art schools that inspire learning, achievement and so much more.
“The buildings themselves are a tremendous educational enhancement,” School Committeewoman Tami Holden said. “That sort of gets downplayed I think. Just reading different articles about what new buildings do alone, never mind all the other things that come into play that can happen. The programs. The pre-k. Going to different schools. It always needs to come out when we speak about this project, not just about the money.”
When the School Building Committee was called into service in February 2021, the idea that Middletown would try to build a new middle-high school and combined elementary school wasn’t on the radar.
At the time, the thinking was Middletown would fix and improve the four schools it had rather than trying to build new, mainly to hold costs down.
Subsequently, a comprehensive study of Middletown High, Gaudet Middle, Aquidneck Elementary and Forest Avenue Elementary schools found at least $190 million in repairs and upgrades were needed to the four buildings. Problems ranged from poor air quality, asbestos tiling, mold to outdated classrooms in the close to 70 years old facilities.
When talks restarted about regionalizing schools with Newport in mid-March, the option of building three new schools emerged, a $235 million project expected to cost Middletown taxpayers about $47 million when reimbursements from the state are factored in. 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.
Under the regionalization model, the Middletown and Newport schools would be run by one school committee, finance committee and administration.
Holden and others on the Building Committee said they understood the press with getting regionalization off the ground initially. But now that many of the pieces have been put in place, she said the Building Committee — and town itself — needed to expand its scope.
As part of that, she said the effort cannot be just about how new schools will save money.
“If you look at the student and staff, what does (a new school) provide?” Holden asked. “Healthier air. You don’t have to have your hat on, your coat on, your window propped open. It’s a healthier environment for the child to learn. A more comfortable place. We should take that and how that impacts the student. The way these buildings can be designed, you have glass doors and places where students can go outside and make the classrooms so it’s easier to collaborate. There are so many more opportunities here.”
“New buildings can enhance things overall for students,” Holden continued. “It’s the health of the room, the air temperature, the heat, the light, the sound, the storage, the technology ready spaces, the physical spaces and the virtual spaces. With this, we want students to engage and connect with fewer distractions and more flexibility.”
Building Committeeman Bill Nash said when combined with the basic numbers and financing, the project sounded like a winner to him.
“Taxes and students and those two things to me are what sell the project,” Nash said. “The numbers make the project happen, the fact we can get three new schools and a learning environment that is second to none, if people aren’t willing to support the project based on that, shame on them. This is something we need to get behind.”
He and other committee members agreed with Town Solicitor Peter B. Regan that it was critical to bid again for OPM services. An OPM acts as the town’s representative every day on the project, serving as the community’s eyes and ears to make sure everything goes smoothly from Day 1 to the end.
As Regan explained, the scope of the OPM services — and project overall — had multiplied dramatically, meaning the original bid no longer covered all the work that needed to be done.
Previously, the council appointed Councilwoman Barbara A. VonVillas to a new Regionalization Steering Committee tasked with guiding the regionalization effort. She joined Middletown Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown, school Superintendent Rosemarie K. Kraeger and School Committee Chairwoman Theresa Spengler.
From Newport, City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr., school Superintendent Colleen 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.
To help spread the word about regionalization and answer questions, information about the project is available at middletown-newport.us online.
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 to the steering board. Those are Education, Communications, Website, Outreach and Finance.
Previously, 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.
According to consultant designs, 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.
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/5163/NYCU-SBC