Westerly School Committee Selects ‘Option B’ as Final Elementary School Project Plan | West

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WEST — The school board is backing a redesign project that would see the construction of a new State Street Elementary School and renovations at Dunn’s Corners and Springbrook Elementary Schools to improve learning and reflect current teaching methods.

The work would be paid for under the $50 million borrowing cap set in March by city council if approved by voters in November. The project will also need to be approved by the state Department of Education. Necessary repairs identified at Westerly Middle School and Westerly High School will be part of the plan submitted to the state, but will not be paid for from the same bond proceeds, according to local officials and the consultants they work with. .

The committee voted 6-1 on Wednesday to move forward with the plan its building subcommittee calls Option B. Current level configurations remain in place under the plan, which also received the recommendation of the building sub-committee. School committee chair Diane Chiaradio Bowdy was joined by fellow committee members Christine Cooke, Rob Cillino, Rebecca Fowler, Giuseppe Gencarelli and Michael Ober to vote in favor of the plan. Marianne Nardone, the only committee member to vote against the plan, said she was in favor of Option D which would close State Street Elementary School, create an eighth-grade academy at Westerly High School’s Babcock Hall , would move the district’s fourth graders to Westerly Middle School, and lead to renovations and additions to Dunn’s Corners and Springbrook Elementary Schools.

The committee’s vote marks an important step in a nearly two-year process in which the building subcommittee researched and reviewed several plans submitted by residents, suffered a hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and solicited input from parents, other residents and teachers during public forums and other outreach efforts. Voters turned down construction plans that emphasized the city’s elementary schools in 2016 and 2019.

School committee members said they hoped voters would approve of Option B when it was presented to them on the ballot in November and noted that the plan was recommended by the subcommittee, which consists of an architect who works on school projects, teachers and school administrators. , a civil engineer, the district facilities manager and financial experts.

“I think we have a great plan in place. I think people could trust us, and I think they will, that we have a plan and we need to push it through,” said Gencarelli, a school administrator. and a member of the school committee and the building subcommittee.

Gencarelli had previously offered a few variations of Option B, but said Wednesday he supported the subcommittee’s reasoning and decision to select the original version of the option. The Building Sub-Committee opted for Option B rather than either variant, as the original plan would provide the District with the most flexibility for potential level reconfigurations that may become necessary or desired in the future. , said Justin Hopkins, chairman of the subcommittee.

While Option B will provide a new building at the State Street location, it will also improve the learning environment at the city’s other two elementary schools, Hopkins said.

“It is imperative to ensure that the investment spent at Springbrook and Dunn’s supports the adequacy of education there and provides new learning environments for these buildings. We would be remiss if we did not focus there above,” Hopkins said.

Option B, according to cost estimates provided to the school board this week by the building subcommittee, would cost $47.83 million. The new State Street Elementary School would cost $32.8 million, and the project would also include $9 million for an addition and improvements to Dunn’s Corners Elementary School and $6 million for improvements to Springbrook Elementary School.

Nardone said she supported Option D because she believed it had been the most studied by the school board and would bring improvements to all schools in the district. She acknowledged the plan had critics, including some teachers, but added: “It’s the school community that can make a plan work, not the building.”

Option D has been beset by parents and teachers. Some critics said they were concerned about eighth graders being near older high school students and others expressed similar concerns about fourth graders who might interact with older high school students. middle School.

The newly approved plan was reviewed by Downes Construction, the firm hired by the school board to serve as the owner’s project manager, and JCJ Architecture, a firm that is also acting as a consultant. Downes used revised construction estimates and anticipated increases based on recent industry cost increases, Hopkins said. The project will allow for potential increases of up to approximately 120 students in the elementary school population.

Downes Construction, Hopkins said, advised using cost estimates of $590 to $610 per square foot, which includes projected cost escalation through construction midway through December 2024. The sub -Building committee, Hopkins said, took the median estimate of $600 per square foot. in its updated projections.

The selection of the school committee having now been made, the two firms will develop more detailed drawings and plans. The next deadline for submitting the project to the state Department of Education is in September. The cost of the project should be eligible for a reimbursement of at least 35% from the State.

Chiaradio Bowdy said she believes Option D would provide a sensible solution to the district’s current needs, but said she could also support Option B. The district’s elementary students and teachers need and deserve better schools, she said.

“We have to do something – it’s borderline embarrassing,” Chiaradio Bowdy said.

School board member Christine Cooke, who served as co-chair of the building subcommittee that helped develop the 2019 plan, said she thinks Option B would win voter approval if teachers in the district were supporting.

“I think if educators support it, we can push it through and do it,” Cooke said.

Option B, as currently constituted, does not include an allocation of funds for Westerly High School’s artificial turf sports fields.

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