Moving Grade 5 from middle school is popular option for Westerly elementary schools

Moving Grade 5 from middle school is popular option for Westerly elementary schools



WESTERLY — The School Committee on Wednesday reviewed the feedback from its June 28 educational “summit” that weighed the pros and cons of four different options for upgrading Westerly’s elementary schools.

Consultant Robert Hendricks, who has now organized two such sessions for the schools, spent about an hour with the committee, giving a rundown of what about 80 selected people at the meeting regarded as strengths and weaknesses for each of the four models presented for reconfiguring the schools, labeled options A, B, C and D.

As part of the redesign project, the Dunn’s Corners and Springbrook schools would be expanded, while State Street School would be replaced on its current site.

Each scenario envisions using the closed Bradford School, perhaps for tuition-based programs or for a centralized pre-kindergarten program.

Committee members had few questions and comments for Hendricks as they absorbed the feedback and data.

Of all the options discussed in June, the one that received the least feedback, and for which there was little enthusiasm, was D, Hendricks said. That one would put between 225 and 250 students at Dunn’s Corners and Springbrook, and 450 to 500 at State Street.

“Option D is the larger school at State Street,” Hendricks said. “Presumably the point was to get as many kids as possible through that school.” 

Options A and B would minimize expansion at Dunn’s Corners and Springbrook, turning them into early childhood lower elementary schools for pre-kindergarten through Grade 1 or 2. A new State Street building capable of holding up to 600 students would be designated as an intermediate or upper elementary school for Grades 2-4, or Grades 3-5 under Option B.

Hendricks said the issue that struck a chord with most participants was moving the fifth grade out of the middle school.

“That’s what we heard from the beginning,” he said. “And it’s not something that was surprising. It is interesting to hear folks speak in unity about the desire to see fifth grade back in an elementary setting.”

The total estimated cost of the project is put at between $49.9 million and $63.5 million, depending on which of the four options is selected. State reimbursement would bring the town’s share of the cost to between $23 million and $39 million.

Options C and D would include K-4 grade levels at the three active schools, with the major differences being the student population and total square footage of the buildings under each proposal.

“My takeaway from the summit was that D was not viable and A wasn’t one that seemed to come up. It was between B and C,” committee member Gina Fuller said. 

The School Committee will settle on a proposal this summer.

The town then would have a February deadline to submit the project to the state, and a referendum would go before the voters in November 2019.

Statewide, voters will decide on a $250 million school improvement bond item this November that would help fund the Westerly projects.

An outline of the options, results of the educational summits, a community survey and enrollment study are available at the project’s website, westerlylegacyplan.com.

rblessing@thewesterlysun.com


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