Decaying East Providence schools become even greater concern

Superintendent admits to "sounding alarm" over EPHS especially after RIDE report

EastBayRI.com ·

EAST PROVIDENCE — Even with intrinsic knowledge of the situation, East Providence School Superintendent Kathryn Crowley nevertheless said she was still taken aback by a physical plant review of the district's buildings done by an independent contractor at the behest of the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Every one of the East Providence School Department's 11 buildings is in need of significant and almost immediate attention according to a review, which was made public two weeks ago and conducted by the Providence office of the global buildings consultant firm of Jacobs. The document is available for viewing as an attachment to the this story and at the district's website, epschoolsri.com.

"It's on our website for residents to see," Superintendent Crowley said. "I want people to see we have a serious facilities issue here in East Providence."

The first of three reports RIDE will release this fall on facilities gives the district's schools numerous urgent grades termed in the report as "Priority 1" and "Priority 2," the definitions of which are as follows:

Priority 1 – Mission Critical Concerns: Deficiencies or conditions that may directly affect the facility’s ability to remain open or meet the intended mission. These deficiencies typically include items related to building safety, code compliance, severely damaged or failing building components, and other items that require near-term correction. An example of a Priority 1 deficiency is a fire alarm system replacement.

Priority 2 – Indirect Impact to Facility Mission: Items that may progress to a Priority 1 item if not addressed in the near term. Examples of Priority 2 deficiencies include inadequate roofing that could cause collateral deterioration of integral building systems, and conditions affecting building envelopes, such as exterior door and window replacements.

The second review, on energy efficiency, is expected in the next few weeks. Third, on technological infrastructure, is expected about a month after that. The grades, from greater to lesser urgency, are on a scale of Priority 1 to Priority 5.

"I was very concerned, very, very concerned when I saw the report," Superintendent Crowley said. "It's not that I didn't know we had significant issues, but when you see the opinion of independent contractors, it was like, wow, this is really serious. It was kind of overwhelming, actually."

The superintendent has earmarked some $5.5 million of an expected $6.5 million surplus from FY15-16 into next year's budget to address some immediate matters like a new roof at Francis Elementary, a fire suppression system at Whiteknact Elementary, renewed repairs to the Hennessey Elementary roof, the replacement of windows in the Martin Middle School courtyard area among other pressing needs. Once complete, the district hopes to reimbursed by RIDE up to 53 percent of the total costs.

The improvements being made in FY16-17 are the beginnings of a five-year facilities update plan the administration initiated this budget season. The plan, however, is basically just for maintenance allowing for the buildings to remain functional according to state standards. East Providence High School, which along Martin Middle School the superintendent said are the greatest of her concerns, wasn't even included in the plan because of its poor condition overall. Specific to Martin, opened in 1977, the superintendent said the structural and architectural elements of building make its long-term viability a question as well.

Asked how long the city's "band-aid" approach to facilities could go forward, the superintendent said not very. And she admitted to "sounding the alarm," especially, about the now 64-year-old high school.

"I don't think the high school is sustainable," Superintendent Crowley said, bluntly. "We haven't calculated it into our projections because we think we're going to need to act on it very quickly. I'm very concerned. This high school is a priority, so, yes, I guess I am sounding an alarm. It's gone too long without being updates, without any improvements even with the addition. It has one functional science lab. How do you expect to teach basic science education and keep up with standards when it's so lacking."

Earlier this year, school administrators and elected officials urged the city manager and council to investigate the high school situation further. It was agreed to hire the city's own independent firm to review the building's status, but with the change in manager that move has stagnated, according to the superintendent.

A Request For Proposal was sent out and four firms responded. Superintendent Crowley said the school department has made its recommendation, but was awaiting for the city to make its choice. She added, "Hopefully we can agree on the same one and get things moving."

This story was originally posted by EastBayRI.com. Click here to view the original story in its entirety.

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