LHS bond vote passes in a landslide

LHS bond vote passes in a landslide

LINCOLN – Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed the $60 million Lincoln High School bond referendum, approving a project to update the building structure and create a more modern educational space for Lincoln students.

This represents the largest construction project and most significant financial investment the town has ever been involved in, according to officials.

A total of 2,132 Lincoln residents voted on the bond referendum, or about 12 percent of all town voters. There were 1,658 voters in favor of the bond, or about 78 percent, while 474 voters opposed it.

The following are the results from the four polling places:

• Lincoln Manor – 360 for, 98 against;

• Father Brouillette Center at St. James Church – 421 for, 94 against;

• Knights of Columbus – 588 for, 184 against;

• And St. Basil Church, 271 for, 83 against.

The town of Lincoln and the Lincoln School District have discussed renovating the high school for at least six years, and a lot of time and effort went into planning the project, said Town Administrator Joe Almond. The town had to prepare financially, plan the project and form a committee for the project, he said. Tuesday night, all of the committee’s hard work paid off.

“I was happy with the vote,” he said. “I think the vote speaks for itself. You have to remember, Lincoln has a very old population. Fifty percent of the people are 60 years or older that can vote. They don’t have kids in school. That number is pretty impressive that they’re willing to support a renovated new school at $60 million. They understand the value of doing it.”

A lot of conversation and compromise went into the plan approved by the voters, Almond said. Some people wanted to build an entirely new school, and others wanted to spend as little money as possible, but by keeping some of the original building, the town was able to save money and improve the high school, he said.

“In my opinion, this was the best time to do it,” he said. “I think the plan is the best plan we can come up with. We salvaged about half of the current facility to do it, what we call the core, it’s a lot less expensive to renovate a big auditorium than it is 10 classrooms. We think we’re being smart with it.”

Mary Anne Roll, who serves on the LHS renovation panel and School Committee, said that people have to feel strongly in order to vote, particularly when only one item is on the ballot.

“Nationally, state, people aren’t voting,” she said. “When people vote, I think it means that they’ve given it thought, they’ve made a decision and they’re going to express that. I’m clearly happy that it worked out for us this time. It was really significant. It wasn’t just a couple of votes. It was really great.”

Almond also said that Lincoln High School will be ahead of the curve because the Rhode Island Department of Education has said that $3 billion needs to be spent to improve the quality of schools across the state within the next few years. About $1 billion of that will go to the health and safety of the schools, he said.

At the moment, the $60 million project will increase taxes by an estimated 2.75 percent, Almond said. Though many community leaders try to avoid big-ticket items like this one for fear of having to increase taxes, he said, the town is investing in a project that will bring benefits in the long run.

“By tackling (the high school) in a more comprehensive way today, (we are) able to keep our taxes very stable,” Almond said. “We’ve prepared funding, we’ve been saving money for it.”

The next step in the process is to choose an owner's project manager. During a meeting on Oct. 26, the Lincoln High School Stage 2 Study Committee discussed 10 proposals and chose their top three project managers. The top three proposals were CDR Maguire, located in Providence, Collier International, of Madison, Conn., and Hill International, of Boston.

Almond said one of the most important metrics while looking through project manager proposals was experience constructing a building that is still in use. LHS will not be shutting down during renovations, so the manager will have to know how to safely and efficiently manage the construction around the students, he said.

“It’s much easier to build a brand new building with no one around,” he said. “That’s probably the easiest. The next challenging thing is to renovate an occupied building, and probably even more challenging, is to stage a building where you’re actually building new rings and tearing down wings while it’s occupied.”

The committee will interview all three of the top companies, but members say they are still open to the other proposals they received before their last committee meeting. The committee will meet on Dec. 5 to discuss the next steps of the process and refine their interviewing focus and questions.