Letter: School bond unanimously supported by bipartisan committee

Posted 10/18/21

To the editor:

The members of the Portsmouth School Committee are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and we are unanimous in our support for the school facilities bond on the ballot Nov. 2. …

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Letter: School bond unanimously supported by bipartisan committee

Posted

To the editor:

The members of the Portsmouth School Committee are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and we are unanimous in our support for the school facilities bond on the ballot Nov. 2. The bond has also received unanimous, bipartisan support from our District’s Building Committee and the Portsmouth Town Council. Here are some of the reasons why.

Necessity: The proposed projects are all necessary repairs and improvements to the health and safety of our buildings. Some of them are long overdue and others will have to be done within the next five years anyway. They represent a heavy lift which is why we need the bond versus financing them on a year to year basis. All of the projects are targeted at ensuring the long-term viability of our school buildings and avoiding the need to build a new school.

Practicality: We’ve been listening to our community and adapting to respond to changes in our environment, particularly over the last two, extraordinary years. The economic problems caused by the COVID pandemic made us adjust the scope of our plan to focus on health and safety issues at this time. 

In particular, the COVID pandemic threw a spotlight on the importance of good ventilation, and has required us to take a closer look at the HVAC systems in all our schools. While the systems in all four schools met this year’s RIDOH requirements, we saw that replacing the HVAC systems at the elementary schools needed to be a high priority. Given the new technology we were able to include air conditioning and reduce future operating costs. 

Financial benefits: Many of you have heard about the additional financial incentives being offered by RIDE at this time. With this plan, we expect to be reimbursed for 40 percent of the actual costs of these projects. This is not a “free lunch;” it is money all RI taxpayers have already paid. This bond will determine whether some of this money comes back to Portsmouth or goes to another R.I. community.

Opportunity: Another addition that was widely requested from the school community was air conditioning for the PHS field house. We anticipate that this addition will greatly improve the safety, comfort, and functionality of this space, and will make it a sistrict asset that can be used more widely by the community at large. Under normal RIDE regulations this project would not be eligible for 40-percent reimbursement, but because of the additional health and safety incentives, it is! 

Timing: We have been fully transparent showing the financial impact of the bond on Portsmouth taxpayers. However, we expect two factors to reduce the impact on taxpayers. First, Portsmouth’s debt service is significantly dropping, so the addition of this bond now will only minimally impact taxpayers — it is equivalent to getting a new car without a change to the existing payment. Second, out of an abundance of caution, we used 3.5 percent as a projected interest rate. Our financial advisors expect the actual rate to be lower. Third, once we approve the total cost of the bond, RIDE will provide about $1.5 million up front, so we will not have to borrow the full amount. 

You can see a complete list of the changes being proposed, as well as the financial information supporting these points at portsmouthschoolsri.org/page/facilities-bond. The proposed projects will affect every school in the district and every person in the Portsmouth school community.

We encourage everyone to vote yes for the school facilities plan (Question 1). You can vote in person on Nov. 2 or earlier, using a mail ballot or early voting. For more information about voting, see the town website at portsmouthri.com.

Emily Copeland, Chair

25 Windstone Drive 

Juan Carlos Payero, Vice-chair

23 Arrowhead Lane

Frederick Faerber III

271 Sprague St.

Isabelle Kelly

71 Child St.

Karen McDaid

65 Gormley Ave.

Allen Shers

40 Roger Williams Court

Thomas Vadney

5 Brant Road

Portsmouth

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