CUMBERLAND – Local schools in recent years have typically been budgeting for the loss of 14 more students annually to a “Blackstone Valley Prep-type” school, but this year, Supt. Phil Thornton told the Town Council last week, they operated on the assumption of 30 students coming back the district’s way.
And that charter cost going down came before the idea of building a new B.F. Norton Elementary School at 364 Broad St., instead of a renovated one, gained steam, said Thornton.
There’s no doubt that a newer school building is more attractive to families, he said, but the district, with all of its recent successes, was already “making inroads” before Cumberland Hill Elementary School’s major renovation and before the most recent positive test scores came out.
Thornton was answering questions from Councilor Bob Shaw about what impact, if any, a new B.F. Norton would have on “competition in the south” of town, specifically as it relates to the choice between a district school and BVP. Savings from retaining students in the system should be factored in and publicized as the town pursues a bond question for a new school, Shaw said.
Thornton said a new building with the services that would come with a larger four-track school would be more attractive, and a new B.F. Norton would make 244 more seats available in the south of town where BVP is based right out of the gate.
Town officials have often expressed frustration at how much local money follows students to BVP, which has multiple schools within the immediate area of B.F. Norton. Town boards recently rejected BVP’s efforts to expand its nearby high school to accommodate more students.
BVP draws students from Cumberland, Lincoln, Pawtucket and Central Falls.
The council made no decisions last week on moving forward with a bond question for a new elementary school and other district improvements, but had plenty of questions for Thornton and the schools’ experts.
Thornton described how enrollment is set to rise by an estimated 7 percent over the next 10 years. The total of 5,016 students now in the district is six years ahead of projections, and that trend is only going to continue, he said. “More customers” mean “more state aid,” he said, but the district needs to plan for what’s to come. Assumptions from 2017 just aren’t holding up anymore, he told the council.
Some of B.F. Norton is original building going back to 1889, he said, and the existing footprint can’t be expanded with renovations. The district has a lot of momentum with new schools and educational gains, he said, and officials see a new B.F. Norton instead of a renovated one at the previously approved $8 million price tag as the last piece in the puzzle.
Luis Torrado, of Torrado Architects, said existing circulation at B.F. Norton remains the biggest issue with the existing school. He described plans for a 21st century new school with each grade having its “own house” with separate learning commons.
Megan Havrilla and Holly Demers, both of Colliers International, laid out specifics of what it would take to build a new school. A new bond of $63 million would go to voters asking them to approve nearly $51 million for the new school and more than $12.4 million for other upgrades across the district, said Havrilla, including new playgrounds and a new roof at Cumberland High School.
Councilor Peter Bradley asked about statements that parts of the CHS roof date back to when the school was built in 1961, saying he thought he remembered a new roof being put on when he was a student, but Thornton confirmed that the roof does indeed go back that far, with the newest sections done in 2008. There are six active leaks, he said, and patching happens quite often.
Demers explained the financial aspects, saying the district could expect a baseline reimbursement of 39.2 percent on the project, and a maximum but realistic reimbursement of 54 percent based on bonus points that are set to expire at the end of 2023. Answering Councilor Scott Schmitt’s questions, she said the actual cost of the projects to the town would be nearly $29 million, and the difference if the town achieves all bonus points in its application is some $10 million. Schmitt asked her if she’s confident they would achieve the three bonus points, and she said yes.
Shaw noted that the schools were already approved for an $8 million renovation at B.F. Norton, asking what the outlook would be if the new bond didn’t pass. Thornton said they would simply continue with the renovation plan.
Shaw asked what it would mean for student population and future planned redistricting. Thornton said the plan has always been to make Community School a four-track school from its current five, moving students to a larger Ashton School, but continued trends on enrollment could “kind of upset our model.” Of the current 95 classes in K-5, 30 percent are overloaded or maxed out by contract, and that’s by May. This is happening earlier every year, he said, and “within five years, I think we have a real enrollment or space problem.”
Councilor Lisa Beaulieu asked about a previous concern that there might be a limitation on the use of the B.F. Norton property, and Thornton said Mayor Jeff Mutter deserves the credit for sorting through that issue. Mutter explained that there was a condition in 1987 that needed to be met for a reverter clause, which was not met, and they now believe that particular hurdle has been cleared.
Solicitor Kelley Morris Salvatore said they’re not yet prepared to say there’s a clean title, but they hope to be able to in the next couple of weeks. The resolution before the council last week but not acted upon would ask the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing the town, with voter approval, to issue bonds not to exceed $52 million for the building and furnishing of the new elementary school and demolition of the current one.
All I can tell you is that this country was in MUCH better shape when President Trump ran the show. I really don't care how he did but got better results than JOEY !
BF Norton as it stands now is a accident ready to happen. Go to Morning dropoff or afternoon pickup and you will see it is complete chaos. The staff does their best to insure student safety but they can’t be everywhere. 40 years ago if someone put some thought into it they wouldn’t of wasted our money. Now is the time to build a state of the art school with high security access in mind. BTW. I have no horse in this race. My children are grown.
the only thing left of the original CHS (1889 version) is the "corner stone" that says 1889 on it. and the other older part of the old high school is the shell that is/was the school gym.all the rest of that building was torn down and a "new" school was built during the 1980's. if that is so old why are they redoing a school that was built in 1930 and first addition 1950 (Garvin School-as per Cumberland Town Year Book 1950 ) I have always voted in favor of school funding issues in my entire voting history since 1972 , this "bond" issue (to build a new BFN will be the first one i vote NO! My taxes on my home just went up by half of my monthly income, how many more seniors are you going to make homeless by tearing down a 40 yr old building and wasting what we do have in this town. Recall that the "bond " issue to "redo" the old CHS was only to renovate the old school..i get it that asbestos made it impossible to "use " the 1889 structure, look up records ..
Of course your taxes went up, that's the Dems playbook....raise taxes so they can spend more
no red wave is not in Cumberland's interest, besides the reason Cumberland turned blue (1932) was because the "reds' sold our water dept to Pawtucket..and FDR's "coat tails". and in RI red towns have higher taxes than we do. i have a solution..i vote in EVERY primary , and i have helped vote bad pols out
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