School officials: We still need $32 million OK'd

School officials: We still need $32 million OK'd

PAWTUCKET - School officials admit being pretty discouraged when the General Assembly extended for one year a moratorium on new school construction, wondering how it will impact a $32 million bond question this fall.

But it didn't take long for their fears to be addressed, said Supt. Patti DiCenso, as officials from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation urged them to move forward with pushing for voter approval of the spending.

The state moratorium does not apply to money spent on addressing health and safety needs, DiCenso told The Breeze, so all but a small percentage of the $32 million was not impacted by the decision.

About $3 million earmarked for technology infrastructure upgrades will now need to be redirected into health and safety upgrades, said DiCenso. She said school officials plan to proceed as they were with a heavy publicity campaign to get the bond funding approved by voters in November.

"We were so upset that the moratorium was extended but then elated when they said that because the bulk of this bond is for health and safety, you can roll that $3 million in," said DiCenso.

She said administrators are preparing a letter to send to state education officials detailing plans to "repurpose" the $3 million for health and safety upgrades at Potter-Burns Elementary School and Nathanael Greene Elementary, the two schools slated for upgrades if the $32 million in borrowing is approved. That letter will be brought to the City Council before it is sent, she said.

It won't be difficult to find ways to spend the $3 million, said DiCenso, as school administrators had to work hard initially just to pare the planned spending back to $32 million. She said they will get help from experts on how to best use that $3 million on health and safety upgrades at the two schools.

There are plenty of options on how to use the additional $3 million in technology money, said DiCenso, including potential upgrades to school restrooms.

The planned work at Potter-Burns and Nathanael Greene represents the first phase of a lengthy school facilities master plan, which calls for upgrades and new schools throughout the district.

If state lawmakers had lifted the moratorium this year, local districts like Pawtucket would have been reimbursed 80 percent of total costs for all approved projects. With the moratorium sticking around, only the health and safety upgrades are reimbursable.

Voters should remain assured that there will be no grand "facelift" at either Potter-Burns or Nathanael Greene, said DiCenso. There are no "beautiful gymnasiums" planned, but just basic infrastructure upgrades like replacing downed ceilings and windows that don't open.

If this year's bond issue is approved, other schools will be paired together for additional borrowing requests in following years, said DiCenso. This city continues to be weighed down by some of the oldest school buildings in the state, she said, and major upgrades are desperately needed.

School officials this summer are making plans for how they'll market the bond questions on the November ballot, said DiCenso. They'll be meeting with city officials to see how they'll be promoting city bond questions.

The $32 million bond question should remain a positive item for voters who care about the future of local schools and their community, said DiCenso, and school officials remain "very" committed to it.

"Students have a right to a safe and nurturing environment, and this will support that," she said.

Comments

A person with common sense will realize that $32 million in problems requiring fixing did not appear overnight. Procrastination has brought us to this point. Scheduled building inspections, twice yearly, then fixing problems as they appear would let the enormous amount of problems to be fixed on an ongoing basis, rather than allowing them to build up to an unmanageable level of dollars needed. Don't be lulled into expecting the "moratorium" to just go away in a year. Rhode Island is broke and getting broker....Doh!

Maybe the city can learn from this costly mistake. Hopefully the administration does things right instead of being reactive for a problem to happen they can be proactive and not let something like this happen again.

These are the school values from the city's tax assessor database.

CITY OF PAWTUCKET
POTTER BURNS SCHOOL
973 NEWPORT AVE
PAWTUCKET, RI 02861
5,971,100
http://data.visionappraisal.com/PawtucketRI/findpid.asp?iTable=pid&pid=6270

NATHANIEL GREEN SCHOOL
285 SMITHFIELD AVE
PAWTUCKET, RI 02860
4,675,800
http://data.visionappraisal.com/PawtucketRI/findpid.asp?iTable=pid&pid=1...

How do they justify spending $32 million for "basic infrastructure upgrades like replacing downed ceilings and windows that don't open" on two buildings that are only valued at $10.6 million?