Ambitious timeline for elementary school project

Ambitious timeline for elementary school project

SMITHFIELD – Since voter approval of the $45 million Elementary School Reconfiguration Project last November, the 15-member School Building Committee has adhered to an “ambitious” timeline to keep the project on budget and on time, according to Supt. Judy Paolucci, pictured.

If everything stays on track, Paolucci anticipates Winsor Elementary School students to move into Anna McCabe Elementary School, which will undergo expansion and renovations in the fall of 2021. Winsor will close that year as well.

For that to happen, the Building Committee must continue working with the Town Council and School Committee to select and approve an owner’s project manager, who will oversee the project, and an architectural firm for design services.

“It does take a while, but you want to do it right and make decisions in a careful and timely way,” Paolucci said.

The Building Committee received eight responses for design services, which will work with completed stage two plans to create a detailed design, and seven responses for a project manager. Paolucci said the responses came from the “best of the best” in the area.

Paolucci, who is on the Building Committee, said members will present their choices for project manager and design services to the Building Committee on March 25, and those selections will hopefully be approved by the Town Council at its April 2 meeting.

According to Paolucci’s projections, the detailed designs for the expansion will need to be completed by early fall, with construction at McCabe beginning as soon as possible. Around that time, Paolucci said she would like to see informational community forums held to keep communication open for parents and students.

“We’re trying to respect people’s sense of community,” she said. “Over the course of the next year, we’ll be pulling a group together for McCabe and Winsor to help guide the work of bringing the two schools together.”

Turning the construction project into a learning and bonding experience for students at both schools is a welcome challenge, she said. This project is an excellent opportunity for the Town Council and School Department to build a stronger relationship as well. In the past, their relationship has been strained or at odds, said Paolucci, and she hopes that working closely together will help build unity.

“We’re trying to really improve our relationship. It shows me the relationship has the potential to grow in strength,” she said.

Town Council approval is needed for bond spending on the project, and Paolucci said to keep the project on time, the purchasing process will go directly to the council, skipping the School Committee.

She said the Building Committee will update the School Committee on the project’s status, but will most likely only vote when there are changes in the design plans. It’s up to the Budget Committee to scrutinize spending and be as “fiscally responsible as possible.”

“The School Committee has the ultimate authority over the buildings. It’s really a balancing act of trust between all three groups,” Paolucci said.

Paolucci said the reconfiguration project is positioned to hit a maximum Rhode Island Department of Education reimbursement at 52.5 percent, less than the previous maximum of 55 percent. Included in RIDE reimbursement is “pay-as-you-go” funding, reimbursing funds up front and saving the town in bond interest payments. Also, up-front RIDE funding will postpone the district’s need to borrow, pushing back associated tax rate increases.

“We are going to secure every bit of reimbursement possible,” Paolucci said, adding that the project manager and design firms, experienced in school capital improvements, can assist in locating money-saving and reimbursement options.

The 15 members of the School Building Committee include Paolucci, School Committee members Virginia Harnois and Richard Iannitelli, School Facilities Director Angelo Mencucci, McCabe Elementary School Principal Catherine Pleau, Winsor Elementary School Principal Brian Ackerman, Assistant Supt. Sara Monaco, Town Manager Randy Rossi, Town Finance Director Jason Parmelee, Town Engineer Kevin Cleary, Building Inspector James Cambio, Asset Management Commissioner David Russas, Town Councilors Suzy Alba and Dina Cerra, and resident James Bussam.

Paolucci said the Building Committee is coming together and can get work done despite being so large. Monthly meetings are open to the public, but are not currently open to public comment. Residents with suggestions or comments are asked to reach out to a committee member directly.

Agendas are available on the school’s website, along with up-to-date information regarding the elementary school reconfiguration process.