Letter: Decision on school construction needs community partnership

Posted 1/14/22

To the editor:

The Barrington School Committee has scheduled the submission of a Rhode Island Department of Education Stage 2 School Construction Plan for Feb. 15. The recommended plan, based on …

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Letter: Decision on school construction needs community partnership

Posted

To the editor:

The Barrington School Committee has scheduled the submission of a Rhode Island Department of Education Stage 2 School Construction Plan for Feb. 15. The recommended plan, based on public records, will be to demolish Primrose Hill, Nayatt, Sowams and Hampden Meadows schools and replace them with a single Pre-K - 2 school at Primrose Hill and a single 3-5 school at Hampden Meadows. The majority of town residents are unaware of the implications of a RIDE Stage 2 submission or the plan to consolidate Barrington’s elementary schools.  

Any required future town referendum vote will only allow residents to vote Approve or Reject on a predetermined school construction plan. The details of the plan, (who, what, where, when, why and how), are included in the RIDE Stage 2 submission which is why it is critical that the community is involved.

Barrington’s elementary schools do not currently meet the needs of students. Current needs include dedicated special education/interventionist spaces, collaboration spaces, art and music, STEM, technology, physical education, and outdoor learning spaces among others. A significant investment must and should be made in Barrington’s elementary schools, but that decision should be made in full partnership with the community.

I urge Barrington residents, who are concerned about the details of the current recommended plan and the lack of community involvement to date, to email the Barrington School Committee and advocate for the extension of the RIDE Stage 2 Submission until at least the November 15, 2022 deadline. The decision to consolidate Barrington’s elementary schools and pursue the largest capital expenditure in town history should not be made without broad based community awareness, partnership and support.

In 2018, a $250 million state school construction bond was approved which provided six construction reimbursement bonuses to municipalities. Two of those bonuses are currently set to expire on December 31, 2022. It is unfortunate that Barrington is now rushing through this process due to timing concerns. Other Rhode Island school committees are petitioning the state to extend the expiration of bonuses until December 31, 2023. Barrington consultants have indicated that the state will most likely extend these bonuses which would allow the Barrington School Committee an additional year to partner with the community. 

An additional reason to extend the RIDE Stage 2 submission is the current extreme price volatility of construction costs. This volatility coupled with the approximate all-in gross per square foot construction cost calculation used by consultant Kaestle Boos potentially risks inaccurate construction cost projections. A RIDE Stage 2 submission locks in the construction costs that RIDE will use in making determinations relative to a plan(s) and these costs will be used to calculate the final total dollar reimbursement to Barrington.  

A community based ad hoc committee representing all stakeholders, similar to the committees which the town council utilizes, could be formed to ensure all community stakeholders are represented in decisions related to the Barrington elementary school system. Improving Barrington’s elementary schools should be a positive and exciting endeavor for Barrington not divisive through community exclusion.

T.J. Peck

Barrington

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