EAST PROVIDENCE — The school committee took the next mandatory step in the process towards the potential construction of a new high school building with a unanimous vote at a special session held Monday night, Dec. 4, supporting three key elements of the plan.
District building sub-committee chair and Ward 3 Committeeman Nate Cahoon introduced the discussion. And after hearing from representatives of SMMA (Symmes Maini & McKee Associates), an architectural, engineering and planning firm based in Boston used by the district on past projects, the committee backed designs for the approximate size of a new building and its general location as well as the notion of completely rebuilding the school instead of rehabilitating or utilizing any portion of the existing 65-year-old structure.
The potential cost of the proposal was not discussed. The committee, however, was working off estimates provided at a March 27, 2017 meeting from a representative of the SLAM Collaborative, a national architectural/consulting firm specializing in educational facilities.
SLAM’s Cathy Ellithorpe told the board at that time it would cost roughly $95 million in current dollar figures to “renovate to new” the existing structure and in the range of some $115-$120 million to construct a new building. The latter figure includes demolition and abatement of the current EPHS and also the construction of new athletic facilities.
The existing state formula reimburses East Providence at 55 percent for school infrastructure projects. Depending on proposed legislation thought to be considered by Governor Gina Raimondo and in the General Assembly next year, that percentage could rise and reach as high as 75 percent if the district meets certain incentives.
Monday, Kristen Olsen and Alex Pitkin of SMMA gave a general overview of their efforts in recent months, which included, among other things, meetings with the district’s building sub-committee, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and discussions with all department heads at EPHS. SMMA showed district employees the results of four recent new facilities it has designed and joined them on in-person tours of those buildings.
Talks with RIDE led to a consensus the best path for the city to proceed upon would be to rebuild the high school rather than add-renovate, according to Ms. Olsen.
At-Large Committee member Joel Monteiro echoed Ms. Olsen’s statement, saying officials at RIDE deemed renovation an “unwise investment” and the state “had no appetite” to reimburse the district for a project of that ilk.
Superintendent Kathryn Crowley added, similarly, “RIDE looked at renovation vs. new and they didn’t think it was financially feasible for the city. It does not save a great of money because of the extent of the repairs needed to be done.”
Ms. Olsen and Mr. Pitkin said the new school is being planned around an enrollment of 1,600 students. It would be 330,000 square feet in size as opposed to the current 268,000. Both of those figures include keeping the existing Career and Technical Center structure intact. All key academic aspects of the facility, including but not solely that of technology and science, and other amenities, like the cafeteria and dining areas, would be modernized.
The schematics of the new building, three stories in height instead of the current two, is deemed a “strong horizontal design” in architectural parlance. Construction would take place behind the current building over the tennis court, softball field and turf field, the latter owned and operated by the Bayside FC youth soccer organization through a lease with the city and district. Those three athletic spaces would be re-situated in front of the new school once the old building is demolished. A “commons” area would be created between the new school and the CTC. Of note as well, the landmark EPHS clock tower would remain in place.
The building's siting necessitates the city/district to break its agreement with Bayside, buying out the group based on an agreed upon monetary figure and schedule included in the contract between the sides.
Committee approval Monday allowed the district to move closer to meeting a February 1, 2018 deadline set by RIDE, which requires it to have the design proposal complete.
The other portion of the February 1 RIDE requirement is for the committee to work in concert with the city council to determine how much East Providence is willing to borrow towards paying for the new school. The city, at the moment, has a bond capacity of $120 million, $36 million of which is already in use for other projects.
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