Among other news, the #MiddletownRI Town Council hears plans to step up the educational effort surrounding the $190 million school bond in coming days.
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BOND EFFORT RAMPING UP
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (SEPTEMBER 18, 2023) – Work to inform voters about a $190 million bond for a new middle-high school is shifting into high gear.
At a meeting Monday night in Town Hall, the Town Council heard from local leaders that outreach is expected to include tours of the schools, speaking engagements and other efforts before the Nov. 7 special election.
Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said the volunteer School Building Committee is working hard with the town's consultants on the project to get the best details and data out in coming weeks so voters have the most accurate information.
For the latest on the proposal and ongoing news, visit https://mdl.town/NewSchool online.
"The (School Building) Committee continues to make really great progress with our consultants on the project," Brown said. "At our last meeting, we spent a considerable amount of time looking at traffic flow on the property as well as issues related to establishing entrances to the buildings. We also spent considerable amount of time looking at where parking will take place as well as the location of athletic facilities."
As the weeks tick down to the special election, council President Paul M. Rodrigues encouraged Brown, the building committee and his team to continue its efforts.
"We're six or seven weeks away now from the (special election)," Rodrigues said. "I think it's important that we start getting that information out there and start meeting with groups. If we can firm up some timelines, we can all certainly make ourselves available if possible to sit in on those and educate the residents as much as we can so they can make an educated decision based on the facts."
Based on recent information, the proposed middle-high school is projected to cost the median Middletown homeowner around $2 a day.
If the project is approved, the latest figures from Tax Assessor George Durgin showed a local homeowner with property assessed at the median of $424,600 would actually pay $1.94 a day — or less than the price of a cup of coffee.
At the same time, a nonresident not participating in the Tiered Residential Tax Program with home valued at the median of $407,950 would see a $2.01 a day increase in taxes. The median commercial property owner of $626,350 was projected to have a $4.27 a day hike.
A separate report from the town’s independent financial experts — Hilltop Securities — showed Middletown was within its acceptable guardrails and the $190 million proposal should not adversely impact the community’s “Aa1” bond rating.
Local leaders continued to emphasize one of the best aspects of the project is the state is expected to pay 55 cents on every eligible dollar for the new school, funding that won’t be available forever.
“Coming into this, we’ve heard questions about the cost of the bond and the impact of the bond,” Brown said. “These two recent documents both show we’re well within our reasonable limits and we are doing the right thing and prudent thing by pursuing this project.”
As students and teachers struggled with classroom temperatures that reached into the high 80s and low 90s during the first week of classes, the unseasonably warm weather caused other havoc for the opening of schools.
A rush of humidity into the rear part of Gaudet Middle School was believed to trip a fire alarm of the Aquidneck Avenue building on the first day of school. Middletown Fire was called, taking critical emergency personnel away from other potential calls and the problem delayed the dismissal of at least one sweltering busload of students.
To battle the heat, portable fans were placed in many classrooms and cafeterias without air conditioning, a measure staff said accomplished little other than pushing more hot air around.
Despite their best efforts, the heat also left school maintenance staff scrambling to replace ceiling tiles, address leaky pipes and other problems, none improving the overall health of each school and costing precious dollars for stopgap repairs.
None of this should come as any surprise, however.
A November 2021 independent report showed the Middletown schools needed $190 million in upgrades before a wall or ceiling were opened. Problems included everything from the presence of asbestos tiling to poor air circulation, security issues, dull, uninspiring learning spaces, leaky pipes and more.
A subsequent March 2023 state report mirrored those findings, showing it would cost more to fix the schools it already has than to replace them. To view those documents, go to https://mdl.town/Report and https://mdl.town/FCI online.
Looking to replace the district’s aging facilities and move the schools into the 21st century, the volunteer School Building Committee recommended in November 2022 building a new grade 6-12 school at the former Starlight Drive-In site at 1225 Aquidneck Ave.
Under the latest design, grades sixth through eight would be separate from the high school students. The layout focused on warm, welcoming, healthy and secure spaces along with an auditorium, gymnasium and library spaces, among other assets.
Plans are evolving around the placement of the pre kindergarten through fifth grades, but the existing Middletown High School campus on Valley Road and Forest Avenue School are at the center of those conversations.
Previously, proponents have said they’d prefer to redo all the schools at once. However, Hilltop Securities have said that’s not possible due to limits on the town’s borrowing capacity.
To review Durgin’s report, visit https://mdl.town/Durgin online. To check out the complete Hilltop report, go to https://mdl.town/Hilltop online.
Document Link: https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/9426/NYCU-Good