PAWTUCKET – As talks on a potential unified high school at the McCoy Stadium site accelerate, City Councilor Mark Wildenhain is calling for a summit to consider whether the city can afford such a facility.

At the Nov. 10 City Council meeting, Wildenhain, head of the council’s finance subcommittee, said the first thing on a Dec. 6 finance agenda will be to have bond counsel Karen Grande talk about the city’s potential bonding capacity for a unified high school. School Committee Chairwoman Erin Dube will also be invited to that meeting, as will Mayor Donald Grebien’s administration to discuss the status of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds and what they might be used for.

At an Aug. 19 meeting, the School Committee approved the administration’s request for the formation of an ad hoc committee on a unified high school, which has been meeting. If the conversation about a combined high school moves forward and it’s decided to go out to bond to borrow for the project, any part of a discussion on what that bond looks like would also discuss an all-inclusive school campus to serve the special needs population at the Pawtucket Annex on Central Avenue, according to a stipulation offered by member Jay Charbonneau.

Wildenhain told The Breeze this week that Grande previous sent a letter to the administration with some thoughts on bonding capacity, including implying that the more money the city gets in aid, the less officials would have to borrow, which makes sense. But whether such a high school would cost $150 million or $300 million, Wildenhain said it’s important to determine more concretely what capacity the city has to handle those numbers, including what other borrowing might be coming off the books and how it could impact the city’s bond rating.

“What else falls off the apple cart?” he said.

Wildenhain said the city has hired someone to help determine how Pawtucket should use its ARPA funds, which has been described to him as being in the ballpark of $44 million, and he wants some answers on what’s available and how it might be used.

He said his personal preference is that the ARPA funds be used to help give residents some type of tax relief. He noted the city’s recent $3.5 million lease-purchase for new trucks, and said similar purchases might be able to be undertaken.

“I want to have discussions so we’re all on the same page,” he said, and those discussions should include suggestions from the public.

If Pawtucket eventually builds a unified high school, the city would have the opportunity to seek new redevelopment opportunities at the Shea High School and Tolman High School properties.

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