'Innovative' high school renovations included in Lincoln's five-year plan

'Innovative' high school renovations included in Lincoln's five-year plan

LINCOLN - A new draft of the town's Capital Improvement Program, currently under consideration by the Ordinance Committee, outlines a five-year guide for potential capital projects through 2018, including top priorities of a police station addition, extensive high school renovations and continued renovations and upkeep of dams.

The plan was put together by the Capital Development Committee, which includes Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond and representatives from the town administration, Town Council, Budget Board, School Committee and School Department.

It states that since the first Capital Improvement Program was accepted by the Town Council in May 2008, the town's public infrastructure has received $11.2 million of investment to fund projects, including the Senior Center, which must ultimately be approved by voters at Financial Town Meetings.

"A Capital Improvement Program involves the forecasting and scheduling of the cost of public infrastructure over several years," the plan states. "It is a valuable municipal tool designed to anticipate and meet the needs of the community, while at the same time spreading out the costs in a deliberate approach."

While the plan gives equal weight to the possibility of renovating the existing high school or building a new one, Almond said he will be advocating to renovate.

"I think we can do a real good job of updating that campus," Almond said. "It won't affect the tax levy at all."

Building two brand new schools in an eight year span is "not realistic," he said, referring also to the $25 million Lincoln Middle School built in 2006.

Plus, he said, Lincoln High School "still has good bones."

"The Lincoln High School is a 1954 to 1963 facility, which received significant additions in 1958, 1970, and 1997," the plan states. "It has not received any major upgrades since 1968, with the exception of minor renovations and roofing work in 2005. The care and maintenance of this facility has allowed many of the major building systems and components to last well beyond their intended life expectancy."

The campus can be renovated to update not only infrastructure issues, like heat or ventilation, but to address educational possibilities, as well, Almond said.

Perhaps the building could be better suited for technology and science integration, or include lecture hall-style classes for students taking college level courses, he said, noting that with an ongoing decrease in student enrollment as it trends with the general population, there will be space to be innovative.

"I have no idea what that construction will be," he said. "We're nowhere near that."

The plan states that even though the new middle school has alleviated the high school of the stress of operating at nearly 100 percent capacity at all times, areas like the library, guidance offices, corridors, storage areas and departmental offices "cannot accommodate the needs of the school."

Because any work to the high school is part of a five-year plan, there is ample time to have agreements and disagreements on what would best suit the needs.

"The student population is going down, but that doesn't mean the facility is adequate," Almond said, adding that students should be served more effectively and efficiently. "It's not just because we want newer space."

Almond said by the end of the year, he will call for the establishment of an exploratory subcommittee consisting of representatives from town administration, the School Committee, the Budget Board and the Town Council to discuss the project with architects, and estimate how much the town could borrow to fund it without raising taxes or hurting the town's bond rating.

A funding plan has already been put in motion, Almond said, and is several years in the making.

As bonds have matured and debt retired over the past three years, the money previously used for payments has been added to a road repair line item in the municipal operating budget, and used to fund repairs outside of the Department of Public Works' $150,000 road work budget.

That municipal line totals $850,000, and keeps money included in the budget so as not to request a sharp tax increase to fund a large project, Almond said. If needed, it could be dissolved into a bond.

"The real borrowing capacity comes in 2017," Almond said, when debt retirement will free up approximately $1.45 million per year, according to the plan. "We just want to be in a real responsible place."

Borrowing is set to be more important going forward, he said, as money from Twin River Casino is anticipated to decline with the opening of casinos in Massachusetts.

The Capital Improvement Plan also speaks to the long-term viability of gaming money.

"It is predicted that this financing source will continue to remain strong for approximately three to four years," the plan states. "The next five-year update to this plan will show just how much of an impact our neighbor's gaming facilities will have on Rhode Island."

The top priority of the plan is one that has already been started - building an addition to the existing Lincoln Police Station on Old River Road. FTM voters approved using $1.92 million to fund Phase 1, constructing the two-story building shell and finishing the build-out of the top floor.

The plan's recommended course of action is to fund a $2.88 million, 6,600-square-foot addition and configuration of the existing site, which would bring the entire police footprint to 15,200 square feet over the course of two years. Phase 2, to build out the lower level and reconfigure the lower floor, is estimated at $900,000, and must be approved at the FTM in May.

"The CDC recommends that the Town pursue the phased construction option, which will enable the Town to pay for the project without bond funding," the report states.

The plan notes that the population growth predictions made in the town's 2003 Comprehensive Plan, which led it to recommend a stand-alone facility, did not materialize, and that the 2010 Census showed a decrease in population.

"In addition to the decreased population growth projections, it was determined that the cost estimates presented in the space needs assessment for a new stand alone police facility would be cost prohibitive to the Town given its current financial obligations and future capital investment projects," it states.

Listed as the third priority of the Capital Improvement Plan are the 20 dams located throughout Lincoln, specifically the five that have been classified as "high hazard" by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Dam Safety Program.

"The dams are subject to structural failure that will possibly create flooding hazards downstream," the plan states, noting that a "high hazard" classification "means a dam where failure or misoperation will result in a probable loss of human life."

The town owns four of the high hazard dams - Handy Pond upper, Butterfly Pond, Moffett Pond and Barney Pond - while Bleachery Pond is privately owned.

Lincoln has already invested $1.4 million into dam projects since 2004, when DEM re-classified several dams as "high hazard." The Capital Improvement Program recommended the continued funding of these projects.

Remaining projects, listed by order of priority in the plan, are:

* Roads and sidewalks - an ongoing project based on available annual funding, which is typically $850,000.

* School administration building renovation.

* Highway garage renovation.

* Town Hall renovation.

* Youth Center renovation.

* Rescue building renovation.

* Open space - an ongoing project based on available annual funding and grant opportunities.